Wednesday 21 March 2018

Lise Hand: Unhurried day in Court 19 lets Sean Quinn play the waiting game

Lise Hand

Lise Hand

Just before proceedings in Court 19 got under way, businessman Sean Quinn slipped in through the door at the back of the room in readiness of taking his place on the witness stand.

But the former billionaire could've dawdled en route to the Criminal Courts of Justice, as Day Three of the Anglo Trial proceeded at the unhurried pace of a sleek salmon swimming upstream.

The day began and ended with the same witness, former CEO of Quinn Group Liam McCaffrey, whose evidence was followed closely by the three former Anglo executives Sean FitzPatrick, Pat Whelan and William McAteer, who were seated in a row on the left side of the room, and also by Sean Quinn and his son-in-law Niall McPartland, seated on a bench on the opposite side of the court.

Brendan Grehan, counsel for Pat Whelan, embarked on a detailed cross-examination of Mr McCaffrey, taking him through a series of financial documents and correspondence between various individuals in Anglo and in Quinn Group.

As the days unfold, the distinct personalities of the different lawyers are beginning to emerge.

On one hand, Mr Grehan, who conducted most of the day's cross-examination, is resolutely no-fuss and employs the sort of even monotone one likes to hear from the plane's captain before a rocky flight.

In contrast, counsel for Sean FitzPatrick, Michael O'Higgins, is a more animated presence, frequently running his fingers through a luxuriant thatch of white curly hair, which looks as if a weary baa-lamb, tired of gambolling in a field, curled up on his head for a snooze.

And up on his high wooden eyrie, presiding over this landmark trial, is Judge Martin Nolan, all smiles and enthusiasm – unlike many judges who often appear to exude ennui from the top bench.

Step-by-step, document-by-document, letter-by-letter, Mr Grehan took the former chief executive of Quinn Group through a series of meetings that took place between September 2007 and the summer of 2008 involving various Anglo executives and Sean Quinn and others from Quinn Group and other parties such as Patrick Neary from the Financial Regulator.

The focus of these meetings was the Contracts for Difference (CFDs) owned by Sean Quinn, which ultimately gave the Cavan businessman a 29.3pc share in Anglo by March 2008.

"Were you aware that Mr Quinn had been building a stake in Anglo?" Brendan asked Liam. "No," he replied.

Among the documents read aloud to the court were excerpts from the minutes of a meeting with Patrick Neary on February 28, 2008, read to the court, referring to concerns about money being moved out of Quinn Insurance to other parts of the empire as debts mounted.

Brendan read from the minutes: "Sean Quinn explained that he deeply regretted the situation and believed that 'Sean Quinn needed to be reined in' and had been greedy."

The numbers involved in the unfolding narrative grew ever larger.

The court heard that Sean Quinn lost €2.4bn through what Mr Grehan described as "this spectacular punt on CFDs".

"He paid a very high price for investing in that bank," replied Liam.

After three hours, Michael O'Higgins took over the cross-examination. At one point, he enumerated the amounts the Quinn Group borrowed €1.975bn from Anglo from November 2007 to July 2008 in order to service margin calls on the CFDs – €330m in March 2008, 151m in May, €547m in June, €286m in July.

"It's an awful lot of money isn't it?" said Michael.

"It's a huge amount of money," Liam agreed.

The barrister said that Morgan Stanley was brought in to "clean up the awful mess" that Quinn and Anglo found themselves in.

"Part of Morgan Stanley's brief was to try and get the toothpaste back into the tube. I'm suggesting they were bought in to clean up the awful mess."

But Liam didn't agree that this was an accurate description.

It was slow, meticulous going, a mixture of minute detail and massive numbers.

Finally, Mr McCaffrey was dismissed and the court rose for the weekend.

Sean Quinn stood to leave, a wide smile on his face. It'll be Monday before his number is called in Court 19.

Irish Independent

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