Fingleton rejects banking claims

 

Former Irish Nationwide chief executive, Michael Fingleton, has rejected “in the strongest possible terms” any suggestion that he ran the organisation as “personal bank”.

Giving evidence at the Employment Appeals Tribunal today, Mr Fingleton said the suggestion was “a slander and absolutely untrue”.

The Tribunal has been hearing unfair dismissal case taken by former Irish Nationwide branch manager in Monaghan, Brendan Beggan (48) against the society. He was dismissed in July 2009 for failing to pay a loan.

He has said the culture in the bank was that staff applying for loans did not have to fill in their financial details on loan application forms and affordability was not established.

In earlier evidence, home loans supervisor at the building society from 2000 to 2008, Olivia Green, said it operated different lending criteria depending on who the applicant was, for members of government, the media and close friends.

Mr Beggan, who was branch manager from 1996, had a home loan from the institution and in 1999 was approved for a further £90,000 (€114,300) loan to buy land at Killylean, Monaghan, at a time when he was earning £27,000.

In 2002 he borrowed a further €63,500.

He was also approved for a €360,000 in November 2003, and €382,000 was drawn down.

Counsel for Mr Began, Mary-Paula Guinness, put it to Mr Fingleton, that he had personally approved these loans.

Mr Fingleton had earlier said that loan applications which did not meet the criteria for approval, were submitted to “a higher authority” for approval, in exceptional circumstance. He agreed the higher authority was himself.

“If I did approve the loans, the procedure would be that the loans manager would come to me and if he assured me that everything had been complied with according to the regulations of the society, I would have accepted that and given approval on that basis.

“I relied on the loans manager to examine everything.”

Ms Guinness said Mr Fingleton was attempting to hand on responsibility. “It’s your responsibility and to say otherwise is not really satisfactory.”

Mr Beggan has given evidence that he met with Mr Fingleton in 2006 when he became unable to meet loan repayments and said the chief executive told him continue paying the mortgage by salary deductions and to finish a property development, to sell it and clear his loans with the profits.

Mr Fingleton said yesterday he “never” spoke to Mr Began about his loans and never socialised with him.

He said he became aware of Mr Beggan’s high loan exposure of up to €1.5 million and commissioned an investigation into his loans.

Mr Beggan was suspended in January 2009 and dismissed six months later. He has said the relationship with Mr Fingleton became “frosty” after his partner, Ms Green, gave evidence in a High Court case against the society.

Ms Guinness asked Mr Fingleton if it was his policy to approve loans at his “discretion” that did not have to be repaid.

“Absolutely not,” he replied.

“I want to refute [sic] in the strongest possible terms that I ran Irish Nationwide as a personal bank. This is a slander and absolutely untrue. I ran the society in the best possible manner compatible with the requirements and obligations of the Board.

“Also the suggestion that I gave loans to some customers that they would not have to pay back is a totally outrageous accusation and totally untrue.”

The case will be mentioned in February. A witness subpoenaed to give evidence today, described by the Tribunal as “crucial”, failed to turn up.