Fingleton tells INBS inquiry Central Bank was out to get him

Former chief says ex-staff members were offered immunity to ‘dish the dirt’

Irish Nationwide;s former chief Michael Fingleton arrives to give evidence to the Central Bank inquiry on its collapse.Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Irish Nationwide;s former chief Michael Fingleton arrives to give evidence to the Central Bank inquiry on its collapse.Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

The former chief executive of Irish Nationwide Building Society (INBS), Michael Fingleton, has claimed the Central Bank was out to get him before proceeding two years ago with an inquiry into the failed lender.

He also said his former staff were offered immunity to “dish the dirt” on him.

In an opening statement to the inquiry in Dublin on Tuesday, Mr Fingleton, who is one of five men subject to investigation for potential wrongdoing, said the decision to pursue the case was an exercise to “divert attention” from the actions of the financial regulator, Central Bank and Department of Finance before the financial crisis.

Scapegoats

He claimed it was an “artificially trumped up case” and a “cynical exercise seeking scapegoats”, adding that INBS had reined in its commercial lending in late 2007 before regulators stepped up their engagement and that authorities did not seek to protect the financial system “until it was too late”.

Mr Fingleton, who led INBS for 38 years until 2009 and who turns 80 next month, has denied that he was accountable for any of seven alleged “suspected prescribed contraventions” at the company between August 2004 and September 2008 that are the subject of the inquiry.

He retired from the lender in April 2009, months after the State guaranteed the Republic’s lenders and before INBS received a €5.4 billion taxpayer bailout.

Mr Fingleton said that it was “clear” from Central Bank interviews with 86 former INBS staff that regulators were “only after the big fish” as they looked into the lender before a decision was taken in 2015 to proceed with the inquiry.

“The regulator had detailed knowledge of the society at all times,” said Mr Fingleton, who is representing himself.

Blind

He also said the “breadth of the inquiry that the Central Bank has chosen to formulate and present its case” made it more difficult for him to defend himself, particularly as he was under medication and practically blind in one eye and “advised that the other eye may suffer the same fate at any time”.

Former finance director John Stanley Purcell, one-time chairman Michael Walsh, former commercial lender Tom McMenamin and Gary McCollum, who once headed UK lending from a base in Belfast, are also subject to the current inquiry.

The inquiry is initially looking at the workings of INBS’s credit committee. While Mr Fingleton said in his statement that he was not a member of that committee until the end of 2007, Mr Purcell contradicted this, saying that his one-time boss was a member throughout the period under investigation.

Meanwhile, the inquiry, which has held public hearings on a number of occasions over the past year, but only started substantive hearings on Monday, has heard that a potential witness, Con Horan, the former prudential director at the financial regulator, was refusing to give evidence.