Anglo verdicts greeted in silence as two never flinched
The two former Anglo bankers could get up to five years in jail and/or a fine
A composite image of former Anglo Irish Bank directors Pat Whelan (left) and Willie McAteer leaving Dublin Circuit Criminal Court after yesterday’s guilty verdicts. Photograph: Eric Luke
As Judge Martin Nolan awaited yesterday’s verdicts, one very interested party kept tabs from a discreet distance. Around the corner from the Dublin Criminal Courts of Justice, parked up in a side street called Montpelier Hill, Seán FitzPatrick sat in his car.
The jury in the case of Pat Whelan and Willie McAteer had retired again following lunch. It was a familiar scenario to FitzPatrick, who shared that same dock the day before with his two former colleagues, only to be cleared of all charges before the afternoon was out. He was a very happy man when he left the building, giving a little speech worthy of an Oscar winner as he thanked his family and his lawyers and his two “special friends”.
Given all that had gone before, one might have expected Seánie to give the area around the courts complex a wide berth.
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Instead, he returned to the scene and waited for the results from the Anglo jury to come in. At one point, he left the vehicle and smoked a cigarette, nervously pacing up and down. He was dressed casually in navy chinos and a lilac sweater, his courtroom suit no longer required.
As it happened, the seven women and five men took less than an hour to return a decision. When word came through that they were ready, the PR man who has accompanied FitzPatrick for much of his time at the trial was there.
Brian Harmon, who is also a lawyer and specialises in strategic communications, was a familiar face to some of the business journalists covering the case. He has acted as spokesman for Denis O’Brien, among others, over the years. Soon after the verdict was read out, he made his way to FitzPatrick’s car and they left.
Minutes earlier, Pat Whelan had left the court, refusing to comment as he walked swiftly past the photographers and up past the turn for Montpelier Hill. The group abandoned him and returned to the steps to catch Willie McAteer as he left.
The verdicts, when they came, were greeted in silence. When the jury indicated its return, it precipitated a mad scramble back to the courtroom by the defendants and their legal teams. Word spreads fast in the courthouse. There was standing room only by the time the forewoman spoke.
The two defendants sat and gazed straight ahead. Did they notice how the jurors, positioned in the box directly opposite them, pointedly avoided looked them in the eye?
“Please answer: Yes or No, have you reached a verdict on any of the remaining counts?”
There were 16 charges in all. The first concerned a loan to one of the Quinn family. Had an illegal loan been advanced? “Not guilty.” For an instant, there was a discernible flicker of hope from the defendants. But the next 10 counts concerned loans to the so-called Maple 10 “Guilty . . . Guilty . . . Guilty . . . ”
They never flinched, looking numbed, staring into the distance. The list was book-ended with more “not guilty” verdicts on the remaining Quinn family loans, but it scarcely mattered.
Judge Nolan thanked the jurors for their “great service to the community and the country”. The defendants, one-time big players in the finance game, stood before the court and were told they would be sentenced on April 28th. The court rose.
For a few seconds, the men stayed stock still. Then McAteer pitched forward slightly, both hands clutching the steel rail in front of him. They quickly left the courtroom with their lawyers.
It was Whelan’s 52nd birthday yesterday. He’ll have had better. They could face up to five years in jail and/or a €3,000 fine.
There would be no smiling statements from them on the steps of the court. No “special friends” to thank, whoever they might be.
Passersby stopped to ask if they were the “Anglo lads”. Others wanted to know what was happening. Not one of the interested bystanders had a good word to say for any of them, although the only name they knew was Seánie FitzPatrick’s. “One law for the rich, another for the poor eejits like us,” said one man, shaking his head in disgust as he wheeled his bicycle on towards the Phoenix Park.
Did their duty
And yet, the jurors had done their duty. Those who had followed the case closely praised their diligence and the subtlety of their verdict.
In the court of public opinion, that will probably count for very little, as will the torrent of evidence heard over the 10 weeks of the trial. It was difficult to follow, but as the days passed, it revealed the nature of big business here and the unsettlingly close relationships between forces that should be independent of each other.
It would have been what we learned from this trial, if we didn’t already know.
Forget the racing and the old school rugby, the helicopter jaunts to Formula One, the overseas soccer skites and those Croker pilgrimages to cheer on the county. Above all, there is one sport which the people with money, influence and power in this country absolutely revere. They don’t just follow it – they play it.
Business kings, blue-chip legal and banking consultants, regulatory authorities and ruling politicians excel in this exclusive code. The game is not about a final result. When they get the moves right, it should continue without limit. If it stops, the loser must face the music.
Sometimes – like in this trial – the Little People get a chance to observe these pinstriped wonders in action. Over the past six weeks, Dublin’s Circuit Criminal Court has been treated to a fascinating top level exhibition match.
And that game? Pass the Parcel. Around and around, the “ eminent” players advise each other on what decisions to make, dodging personal responsibility at every successful hand-off, feeding and gaining strength from each other in what becomes an unbreakable sequence of memory loss and corporate cahoots.
It wasn’t me, it was him. They told me to do it. Not us, guv. Move along to the next big deal, nobody to blame here. When the sequence breaks down, we get what happened yesterday in court number 19. It is a very, very rare occurrence.