A history of ethical failure in Ireland's banking system


For many consumers, the most disturbing aspect of AIB's admission on foreign exchange overcharging will be that it comes at the end of a long line of startling prudential and ethical failures in the Irish banking system.

The most prominent of these, and arguably the one that brought the Republic into a new era of financial clean hands, was the Ansbacher scandal. This was a messy affair and one that drew in the top brass of Irish business between the early 1970s and 1997, when it was unearthed by the McCracken Tribunal.

Ansbacher (Cayman) was an unlicensed bank that operated from CRH's offices in Dublin. It allowed high rollers to deposit large sums of money offshore while retaining the convenience of easy access at home. The most famous customer was Mr Charles Haughey.

Investigations by the authorities have since yielded about €42 million from these wealthy individuals for the Revenue Commissioners. The owners of Ansbacher Cayman have made a 7.5 million settlement with the Revenue, despite insisting that they had no tax liability.

Soon after Ansbacher had opened the doors to financial scandals in the banking sector, it emerged in 1998 that National Irish Bank (NIB) had marketed an unauthorised investment scheme to more than 400 account-holders, many of whom used the scheme to evade tax. Among the employees involved was Mayo TD, Ms Beverly Flynn. The bank was also investigated for the systematic overcharging of interest.

By the end of March this year, inquiries into NIB's Clerical Medical International policies had brought 48 million for the Revenue in previously unpaid taxes and penalties.

The next big scandal to emerge was the bogus non-resident account affair that came to prominence when it was investigated by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). This was a story of tens of thousands of ordinary people who opened accounts under the name of an overseas relative and used them to hide money from the Revenue. The PAC found that the banks, including AIB, had in some cases actively encouraged the move.

The banks later paid over €220 million to settle their related DIRT liabilities with the Revenue and a further 494 million has trickled into the State's coffers from their customers, who are being individually pursued by the Revenue Commissioners.

The latest investigation - into deposit accounts held offshore by Irish residents in Irish financial institutions - yielded 15,000 voluntary disclosures before a deadline of March 29th, with the Revenue's expected haul yet to be quantified.