Wednesday 25 April 2018

Cowen dined privately with Anglo bank chiefs

Angry Taoiseach insists: I am not protecting anyone

Taoiseach Brian Cowen shares a laugh with Paidi O Se at a special 20th anniversary of the player's football tournament after he had endured a tough day in the Dail where he was grilled by the Opposition on the banking crisis
Taoiseach Brian Cowen shares a laugh with Paidi O Se at a special 20th anniversary of the player's football tournament after he had endured a tough day in the Dail where he was grilled by the Opposition on the banking crisis

Senan Molony, Joe Brennan and Fionnan Sheahan

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen was a keynote speaker at a private dinner for top Anglo Irish Bank executives - just weeks before he began running the country.

Mr Cowen angrily rejected suggestions in the Dail yesterday he was attempting to protect anyone involved in the Anglo shares scandal.

But as the Taoiseach came under renewed pressure to name the 'golden circle' fresh details emerged of his cosy relationship with the beleaguered bank's top brass.

Mr Cowen dined privately with Anglo Irish Bank directors at a Dublin hotel just weeks after he had been warned of a dangerous position with the bank's shares that threatened the entire Irish financial system.

Mr Cowen was Finance Minister at the time and was told only weeks before about problems at the bank with the shareholding of multi-millionaire businessman, Sean Quinn.

He met the Anglo bankers on the night of April 24 last when he was already Taoiseach-in-waiting and when his close friend, Fintan Drury, was a member of Anglo's board, chairing its risks and compliance committee.

The occasion was not an official public engagement, and no briefing note or formal speech was prepared by officials for the then Finance Minister.

A government spokesman insisted last night: "Private meetings are common between finance ministers and banks across the board."

Mr Cowen was aware at the time of a large overhang of shares held by the Quinn Group and members of the family.

The accession of Mr Cowen to the office of Taoiseach in early May was followed the next month by the retirement of his friend, Mr Drury, as a non-executive director of the bank.

In July, the Finance Minister -- by then Brian Lenihan -- was assured by the Financial Regulator that the Anglo shares issue had been successfully resolved, but learned no further details.

Mr Cowen yesterday faced further questions on the identity of the golden circle of 10 businessmen who were loaned €30m each to buy Anglo shares.

The matter is being investigated by the white collar crime watchdog and the Financial Regulator.

Both are also probing €84m in secret loans to former Anglo chairman Sean FitzPatrick.

Mr Cowen indicated last night that serious criminal charges could end up being brought against those involved in the scandals at Anglo Irish Bank.

"The whole issue here is to ensure there is accountability. In the event of serious charges being brought against any person, were that found to be the case, there are serious penalties under the Companies Act 2005.

"It's important this matter is dealt with, and the Director of Corporate Enforcement is given the opportunity to conclude his investigations presently and decide what the next phase is," he said

Meanwhile, sources close to the five Anglo non-executive directors who stood down following the group's snap nationalisation insisted last night that they were not aware of the controversial 10pc share placement before they resigned.

They were aware, however, of concerns about the large stake businessman Sean Quinn had held in the group before that was unwound.

The five non-executive directors who resigned within days of the State taking control of Anglo were: Noel Harwerth; Anne Heraty; Ned Sullivan; Gary McGann; and Michael Jacob.

The Taoiseach told the Dail this week that he was not aware last year of the identity of 10 super-wealthy businessmen who were brought together to accept a €300m Anglo shareholding that protected all their identities.

Denied

And he declared yesterday he still did not know the names.

Mr Cowen angrily denied he was protecting anybody involved with Anglo Irish Bank.

He said the accusation was a political slur and part of a smear campaign against the Government.

In particular, the Taoiseach appeared to be annoyed at Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny's statement the previous night that he had "continually attempted to protect high level officials within the bank". Mr Cowen said he rejected this contention.

"I also reject the idea that he does not wish to impugn my integrity when he has been putting out statements that impugn my integrity," he said.

Also yesterday, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said he wouldn't sack the board of the Financial Regulator because they were "not industry insiders".

The Taoiseach's spokesman confirmed last night that Mr Cowen had addressed the Anglo dinner without notes, and had discussed the Irish economy. He had not spoken about specific banking issues, he said.

The spokesman confirmed the event had been organised by Anglo Irish Bank.

The Irish Independent understands the function involved a very limited number of bankers and financiers and was undertaken without publicity.

Meanwhile, Mr Cowen has also admitted scrapping a Revenue Commissioners' order which would have cost stockmarket investors millions of euro in tax on controversial share options.

The Taoiseach took the decision when he was Finance Minister in 2006 after being lobbied by vested interests.

But Mr Cowen insists he only took the decision based on advice from department officials.

The Taoiseach confirmed he received representations from the Irish Stock Exchange, the London Investment Banking Association, Davy Stockbrokers and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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