I never used Nationwide as personal bank -- Fingleton
MICHAEL Fingleton, the disgraced former chief executive of Irish Nationwide, yesterday denied that he ran the lender like a "personal bank".
Appearing at the unfair dismissal case of former branch manager Brendan Beggan (48), he also denied lending money to certain individuals on the understanding that they did not have to pay it back.
The comments are the first time that Mr Fingleton has responded publicly to allegations that he ran the now-nationalised lender as his own personal fiefdom.
Mr Beggan, a former inter-county GAA star, has claimed he was unfairly dismissed in July 2009 after failing to repay loans to the society.
His partner, Olivia Greene, was the whistleblower who last year revealed that Mr Fingleton fast-tracked loans to Fianna Fail politicians -- including €1.6m to former European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy. She worked as a home loans supervisor at the society.
Mr Fingleton's evidence to the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) yesterday was almost completely at odds with evidence previously given by Mr Beggan and Ms Greene.
He denied that he was aware of Mr Beggan's loans for properties in Co Monaghan, or that he discussed with Mr Beggan paying back the loans through salary deductions.
After he had finished giving evidence, Mr Fingleton told the tribunal he had something he wanted to say.
"I wish to refute in the strongest possible terms, claims I ran it as a personal bank, that is an absolute slander and totally untrue," he said.
"I ran the society in the best possible manner in accordance with guidelines. In relation to suggestions that I gave loans that didn't have to be paid back, that is a totally outrageous allegation, it's totally untrue," he told the tribunal.
Mary Paula Guinness, counsel for Mr Beggan, mentioned a number of loan agreements between the lender and her client that an internal review said were authorised by Mr Fingleton. The financial details on the application forms were left blank. Referring to the report's assertion that the loans were approved by Mr Fingleton, he twice responded: "Have you got my signature? Where's my signature?"
He insisted that he only became aware of Mr Beggan's loans when a 2007 audit found that he had a €1.5m exposure to the lender. He was "amazed" at this.
He said the board agreed on lending criteria and that any time a customer's total exposure surpassed €1m, loans had to be put before a credit committee.
This was not done in the case of Mr Beggan, Mr Fingleton said.
He repeatedly placed responsibility for approving and signing off on Mr Beggan's loans with a loan manager, who was subsequently suspended.
"It was the responsibility of the lending manager, it was nothing to do with me," he said.
A key witness, who had been subpoenaed to appear yesterday, failed to turn up to the tribunal.
The case was put in for mention in February so that Mr Beggan's legal team could attempt to get him to appear.
The tribunal heard that the witness, a solicitor, was also a witness in a High Court case scheduled for next Monday in which Mr Beggan is also involved.
Ercus Stewart, counsel for Nationwide, told the tribunal that he hoped for a speedy hearing.
He said Nationwide was being wound down and added that "my client might not exist" if the next hearing took too long.