Jurors in the trial of three former Anglo Irish Bank directors have been told they must have “moral courage” and leave any prejudice they might have about bankers at the door of the jury room.
Judge Martin Nolan said they were not entitled to visit upon the accused men what had occurred “since the Lehman Brothers crash” of 2008. “That would be incredibly unfair and wrong,” he said. After 10 weeks and more than 50 witnesses, the 12 jurors were charged by Judge Nolan who told them they faced “a very important decision” in the case.
Judge Nolan said that unanimous verdicts were required. They deliberated briefly before being sent home for the weekend to resume on Monday. In his address, the judge said it did not matter whether the three men believed the share purchase scheme at the centre of the case was legal or illegal.
“This might seem totally unfair – that the belief of the defendants as to the legality or the illegality does not matter – but that is the case and I’m directing you as a matter of law,” he said.
The attitude or actions of the financial regulator and any legal advice were also “totally irrelevant”, as was the involvement of investment bankers Morgan Stanley.
The scheme involved unwinding businessman Seán Quinn’s stake in Anglo in July 2008, with businessmen known as the Maple 10 borrowing €45 million each to buy some of the shares underlying it and members of the Quinn family borrowing €170 million to buy another tranche of the shares. Judge Nolan outlined Anglo’s efforts to deal with the problem of Mr Quinn’s 28 per cent stake in the bank, which he held through contracts for difference – investment products based on share price.
A disorderly unwind would have been “catastrophic” for Anglo and the Irish financial system, the bank believed.
Judge Nolan told the jury they had to decide if there had been lending in the case and, if there was lending, was the purpose to stabilise the share price and was it in “the ordinary course of business”.
If it was not, they had to decide if all three men knew about the scheme and if they did know, did they take steps to stop it. The judge said that if the jury answered no to any of these questions, they must acquit the men. He said the jurors must be certain of the guilt of the accused men before they could convict and must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt.
Seán FitzPatrick (65) of Greystones, Co Wicklow, William McAteer (63) of Rathgar, Dublin, and Pat Whelan (51) of Malahide, Co Dublin, are charged with 10 counts of providing unlawful financial assistance to 10 individuals in July 2008 to buy shares in the bank, contrary to section 60 of the Companies Act.
Mr McAteer and Mr Whelan are also charged with six counts of providing unlawful financial assistance to six members of the Quinn family. All three men have denied the allegations.
Judge Nolan said he was impressed by the Maple 10. They stood to lose money if things went wrong but were prepared to do it because they were asked. “They were certainly good men and acting with good motives,” he said.
Earlier, in his closing speech on behalf of Mr FitzPatrick, Michael O’Higgins SC, said “everybody was gloriously happy” with the deal to unwind Mr Quinn’s holding in Anglo until “the climate changed”.