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David McWilliams: Party is now over for ECB and 'Bunga Bunga' banks

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Are you too fascinated by the details of Berlusconi's 'Bunga Bunga' parties? With all the serious stuff about the Dail, the election, politics and our predicament, we need a distraction.

A quick glance at 'Grazia' from time to time is just the tonic. In such magazines and in all the red tops, we get the "no-holds-barred" details of the Italian prime minister's orgies outside Milan with young prostitutes who were themselves shocked by the demands of Silvio.

The image of the rich, successful, old 'Sugar Daddy' with oodles of money and no sense, infatuated by the beautiful temptress is as old as the Bible. It is the modern equivalent of Herod, Salome, and the Dance of the Seven Veils, which ultimately led to the beheading of John the Baptist. Berlusconi is Italy's Herod.

The gifts to the girls, ranging from jewellery to straight cash, and their subsequent revelations indicate how the game Silvio was playing affected his own, admittedly tarnished, reputation.

Berlusconi insists that none of the girls at the parties are paid. Instead he gives them gifts for their time and attention. One girl received a diamond watch inscribed with: "It's a good thing that Silvio is here".

Old Silvio, having bought people off for most of his life, gambled that the gifts would be enough to cover up the whole thing and preserve his reputation. But he got in too deep and there were too many people who knew. Now that the girls are singing like bright canaries, he is desperately exposed and he looks like an old sleazy eejit.

But Silvio isn't alone. He is not the only 'Sugar Daddy' in Europe who is caught out by the enthusiasm of his own initiative.

The ECB is the Silvio Berlusconi of the financial markets. It was the Sugar Daddy that threw money at the gamey banks in peripheral Europe and in Ireland, in particular. It was hoping that these gifts of huge amounts of cash would preserve its reputation. Its reputation was dented when it became apparent that it had presided over an orgy of credit in the boom years. It housed the orgy under the roof of the euro and as long as the euro looked clean and respectable on the outside, no one knew what was going on inside.

However, what was going on was a huge Ponzi-scheme where old German and French savers stuffed money into the hands of peripheral banks who, in turn, dealt this out to their financially promiscuous customers. As a result, according to the Bank for International Settlements, the banks in Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain owe over €900bn to the German and French banks.

Worse still, as evidenced by the shenanigans in Depfa Bank in Dublin, under the cover of the euro, the Irish regulator set about establishing the financial equivalent of a red light district in the docks. In the Irish red light district, German banks and investors were allowed to indulge in all sorts of things which they wouldn't be allowed to do at home.

German capital was in Dublin because in Dublin you could do things that would have had you arrested in Frankfurt -- "light touch", how are ye! The motto of the IFSC for some was the banking equivalent of a stag party on tour: "What happens in Dublin, stays in Dublin".

The Sugar Daddy overseeing all this was the ECB, which, when it knew that certain things were going on that it couldn't possibly condone, simply looked the other way.

Now that all this is emerging and the ECB has to face up to the direct consequences of its financial orgies, it is trying to pay off its former 'Bunga Bunga' girls -- the peripheral banks -- for them to stay on message. Remember the diamond watch inscribed with: "It's a good thing that Silvio is here"?

Maybe our banks should have one inscribed with "it's a good thing the ECB is here" because without the ECB, the banks would be exposed. But the problem is that all the ECB's money injected into the Irish banks (€97bn) comes with the huge price that we, the taxpayer, pay over to the banks who lent to our banks in the first place.

The ECB's reputation is now tied up with the emerging evidence of the orgy of credit that it hosted from 2000 to 2008.

To preserve what is left of its reputation, it has to keep the 'Bunga Bunga' banks on message. The message is that no bondholders get burned, but the 'Bunga Bunga' banks are demanding more money from the Sugar Daddy every day just to keep them onside.

At some stage, one of the banks will crack, not least because the banks are dependent on the people of Ireland paying for the recklessness of German, French and British loan sharks.

The pressure is just too much. It is clear that if the ECB wants to be credible, it needs to employ a Max Clifford and change its story. It should come clean and 'fess up. What we need is a full confession that it hosted the credit orgy and then, when it was over, it kept the 'Bunga Bunga' banks open via gifts and inducements.

Then, with an undertaking to change its ways in the future, the reputation of the Sugar Daddy -- the ECB -- could be salvaged, or at least that process could begin.

david@davidmcwilliams.ie

Irish Independent