Another Anglo Irish Bank criminal trial, another former banker walks free.
Four years after the prosecution began over the concealment of bank accounts belonging to former Anglo chairman Seán FitzPatrick – and up to 14 years since attempts were made to hide them from the Revenue Commissioners – the bank’s former chief operating officer Tiarnan O’Mahoney was acquitted.
Judge Martin Nolan explained to the jury of eight women and four men in Court 19 of the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin that a judge directing a jury to find someone not guilty was not unusual. He went on to say that trials against former Anglo executives were no longer as unusual as they once were.
It was a frequent occurrence and “quite appropriate” for defence lawyers, he said, to make an application at the end of the prosecution’s case against an individual, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
What was unusual about what happened yesterday was that the judge stepped in, mid-trial, to say there was not enough evidence to link O’Mahoney to the crime and the case should not go to the jury.
But let there be no doubt, he said. A crime was committed here. It was a "major offence", Judge Nolan told the jury. But this was a weak prosecution case, as a ruling in the Court of Appeal showed last year.
An expressionless O’Mahoney sat attentively in the dock hanging on the judge’s every word.
The prosecution's case was already on shaky ground heading into this retrial. The Court of Appeal had previously quashed the convictions of former Anglo company secretary Bernard Daly and O'Mahoney. O'Mahoney had originally been sentenced to three years in prison and Daly to two years.
The evidence against Daly was “thin”, the Court of Appeal said last year.
Only O’Mahoney, seen as one of the favourites to succeed FitzPatrick as chief executive of Anglo more than a decade ago, was sent forward for a second trial.
Another official at Anglo, former assistant manager Aoife Maguire, had also been convicted and sentenced to 18 months. Several months before ruling on the convictions of Daly and O'Mahoney, the court reduced her sentence to nine months, suspended the portion spent unserved and released her.
But she did not appeal her conviction.
With O’Mahoney’s acquittal, this low-ranking former Anglo official is the only former member of staff at the bank to be convicted of offences relating to the concealment of FitzPatrick’s accounts.
FitzPatrick himself has never been charged for actions taken by bank staff, even though, as Judge Nolan pointed out, he was the person who benefited from the deletion of the accounts.
The offences stem from long-ago efforts by the Revenue Commissioners to uncover the extent of tax evasion, specifically the failure to pay deposit income retention tax, or Dirt, on accounts.
In the early 2000s, the Revenue turned its attention from the banks themselves to the customers who used these accounts.
Audit of Anglo
Tax officials contacted the banks looking for lists of non-resident accounts and followed that up with a High Court order and an audit of Anglo in 2003 forcing them to hand over data.
This would have led to disclosure of FitzPatrick’s accounts that were in the name of his brother-in-law John Peter O’Toole.
The original trial heard evidence that Maguire sent emails directing the bank’s IT department to delete the accounts. This tied her directly to the conspiracy to destroy records.
The case against O’Mahoney collapsed because of the absence of formal evidence of conspiracy with Maguire, an Anglo staff member with whom he was close.
Despite the acquittal, O’Mahoney and FitzPatrick did not escape criticism from the judge.
Judge Nolan said there was every reason to be suspicious of O’Mahoney’s activities in October and November 2003 but that the case against him was “too tenuous”.
On the second last day of the trial, Judge Nolan fired a torpedo at FitzPatrick. He accused the bank’s former boss of using the accounts in question to deal in Anglo shares “in a prohibited period”.
“For a petty reward, he breached the rules in relation to insider trading,” the judge said on Tuesday.
Despite these criticisms, O’Mahoney, like his former boss at Anglo, walks out of the courts after years of criminal proceedings a free man.