Friday 6 December 2019

Movie director takes in closing scenes of drama

RELIEF: Sean FitzPatrick leaves the court a free man
RELIEF: Sean FitzPatrick leaves the court a free man

Lise Hand

THERE was a slight sense of deja-vu in the room – many familiar faces were back in their customary places in Court 19 where they had variously sparred, listened, leafed through endless files and taken copious notes over the 47 days of the Anglo trial.

There was, of course, a Seanie-shaped hole on the bench where once sat three Anglo executives.

The former Anglo chairman was acquitted of all charges by the jury on April 16, but the fate of Sean FitzPatrick's two colleagues Willie McAteer and Pat Whelan has yet to be decided after the jury pronounced them guilty on April 17 of giving illegal loans to the Maple 10 consortium.

Although there was no Seanie and no jury, there was still legal arguments to be put forward by senior counsel for the State, Paul O'Higgins and Una Ni Raifeartaigh; Brendan Grehan, representing Pat Whelan; and Patrick Gageby, defence counsel for Willie McAteer.

And there was much interest in the individual who took to the witness stand, solicitor Robert Heron, former equity partner at the commercial law firm Matheson Omsby Prentice (now renamed Matheson) who gave legal advice to Anglo Irish Bank.

Although the highly technical trial largely flew under the public radar, the flurry of drama surrounding the verdict decisions has brought it back into the spotlight.

And so the courtroom was full yesterday afternoon as the sentence hearing for the two men began at 2pm.

In among the large number of general public who crowded into the court was film director Jim Sheridan, who stood against the wall, close to the witness-box listening intently to the examination, prompting some quiet speculation that a banking-related movie could be in the works.

But everyone involved in these proceedings was interested in hearing what Mr Heron had to say, for he had been – albeit in absentia – at the centre of intense and protracted legal argument during the trial, culminating in a ruling by Judge Martin Nolan that no mention of any legal advice obtained by Anglo in the run-up to the Maple 10 deal could be considered by the jury.

A litany of witnesses, among them several of the Maple 10, had testified that they had no worries about the July 2008 deal because Anglo had obtained positive legal advice – nonetheless the jury were suddenly informed on Day 18 of the trial that they must regard any evidence of legal advice as irrelevant.

But yesterday, for over two hours, Robert Heron's soft-spoken, modulated voice was heard as he was taken through the events leading up to the Maple 10 transaction in July 2008.

The solicitor told the court that he did not know about the lending to the Maple 10 when he was advising the bank on lending to members of Sean Quinn's family, and that he had no clear recollection of a key phone call on July 12, 2008, with representatives of Morgan Stanley bank and Anglo officials. Moreover he had no written notes, apart from a few scribbled words in a diary.

Nor did Robert Heron know how the Morgan Stanley executives – who did keep notes – concluded that he had given the legal okay to the Maple 10 transaction.

However, his assertion was challenged by Mr Grehan – leading to some frosty exchanges between the two men, with the senior counsel putting the 'cross' into 'cross-examination'.

Mr Grehan suggested that if the solicitor had no recollection of the conversation, then it was possible that he had in fact given a positive opinion to Morgan Stanley.

"I think it's very unlikely," responded Mr Heron, who had turned in his chair to face Judge Nolan in order to direct all his replies to him, rather than to the senior counsel.

Mr Heron kept his composure under close questioning from Brendan Grehan – although at one point he told the court "I still don't think I fully understand it", when he looked back on the Maple 10 transaction.

Once more, as they had done for the duration of the long trial, Pat Whelan and Willie McAteer sat quietly, listening to the legal back and forth.

But an end to this immensely complex affair is finally in sight.

There is one more witness to take the stand tomorrow, and then the fate of the two Anglo men lies in the hands of Judge Nolan.

Irish Independent

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