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Wednesday 25 April 2018

Lawyers at odds over unmasking of 'Anglo 10'

Public right to know overrides confidentiality need, Kenny says

Members of Sinn Fein hold a mock collection in Dublin for bank chiefs
Members of Sinn Fein hold a mock collection in Dublin for bank chiefs

Fionnan Sheahan, Sam Smyth and Senan Molony

THE Government's legal adviser has warned it faces the threat of being sued and undermining the country's entire banking system if it unmasks the Anglo Irish 'golden circle'.

But the coalition was forced into an apparent u-turn last night after a spokesman said it was now seeking some way of identifying the 10 investors who were loaned €300m to buy shares in the beleaguered bank.

The Irish Independent understands that the Attorney General has comprehensively outlined the reasons why the names cannot be made public.

There is conflicting legal advice about the reason for not identifying the 10 businessmen who were loaned €30m each to buy shares in the bank.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny last night rejected the Government's refusal to publish the names on the grounds of banking confidentiality.

He said the public right to know overruled banking confidentiality where there was wrongdoing, and this legal point had been proven in the Supreme Court ruling on the National Irish Bank scandal.

Mr Kenny also accused the Government of protecting "powerful and wealthy elites closely connected with Fianna Fail".

Some independent legal experts say there are no legal obstacles blocking the Taoiseach from naming the high rollers in the absence of any legal proceedings.

"The only issue here is client confidentiality," a leading libel lawyer said.

Fianna Fail and Green Party ministers are trying to distance themselves from the escalating controversy by claiming the Government is seeking a legal route to naming the businessmen.

The issue became a test of the credibility of the Green Party in Government after Environment Minister John Gormley said a legal way was being sought to make the names public.

But Mr Gormley did not offer any solution and readily acknowledged the client confidentiality was an obstacle.

Worried about the Greens walking out of Government, Fianna Fail provided them with a fig leaf, by saying a legal route was being sought -- a complete reversal of its earlier position. "Consideration is being given to whether it is legally possible to obtain the information, other than through the Financial Regulator, or to make the disclosure in another way," a spokesman said.

Frustrating

After Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said it would be preferable if the 'golden circle' were named, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said he would like to see the individuals dealt with, adding it was frustrating for the Government to not be able to name names.

But the Irish Independent understands the Attorney General has comprehensively outlined reasons why the names cannot be made public, citing the Central Bank Act 1942.

Mr Kenny said: "As long as this Government remains in office, there is a real perception that the resolution of this banking crisis is being manipulated in the interests of powerful and wealthy elites closely connected with Fianna Fail."

Hitting back on behalf of the Government, Junior Minister Billy Kelleher said Mr Kenny was playing "fast and loose with the facts".

The minister said the Government had set up statutory bodies to deal with the banks. "It is completely inappropriate to be making comments that could undermine the work of these agencies," he added.

Tanaiste Mary Coughlan said the identities of mystery investors would not be revealed in Anglo's annual report or the PricewaterhouseCoopers report published today.

However, the report is expected to confirm that it will have to write off most, if not all, of the estimated €300m it provided to the investors, who are believed to be major property developers with links to the bank.

Meanwhile, the Irish Independent has learned that the group of Anglo investors was put together after a prospectus was prepared by a London-based investment house.

The share buyout was arranged over several weeks, rather than being hastily cobbled together, as previously intimated.

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