Multi-million Anglo write-offs may be impossible to investigate, commission says

Many borrowers have left Ireland since collapse of bank in financial crash

Anglo Irish Bank signage and lettering being removed from the bank’s headquarters Office in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Anglo Irish Bank signage and lettering being removed from the bank’s headquarters Office in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

The commission investigating multimillion-euro debt write-offs by the former Anglo Irish Bank has told the Government there are significant difficulties in completing investigations into many of the deals under its remit.

The commission has, for almost five years, been investigating the sale of infrastructure company Siteserv to businessman Denis O’Brien, which involved a write-off of €110 million.

The judge-led inquiry was tasked with looking at all deals where the bank, which was comprised of the remnants of the former Anglo Irish Bank, wrote off more than €10 million. Its latest report shows there are some 37 transactions in this category. There have been significant concerns about the time and cost of investigating all these transactions.

However, the report by Justice Brian Cregan – his eighth interim report – which was given to the Government earlier this month and published on Tuesday, raises a number of concerns about the practicalities of investigating the remaining transactions.

Chief among these is the fact that of the 37 transactions, some 28 of the borrowers involved are resident or incorporated outside the State – mostly in the United States or Britain.

The report warns there will be “significant, if not insuperable, difficulties in obtaining discovery and/or witness statements” from companies and individuals involved, meaning the commission may be “unable to investigate whether a particular transaction was, or was not, commercially sound”.

The commission, according to Justice Cregan’s report, “is of the view that it will not be able to progress its investigations in any meaningful way into any of these transactions”.

The remaining nine transactions involve Irish borrowers, but two have been dissolved, and a further two are in receivership, which will “also present obstacles to the commission pursuing its investigation”.

The commission also warns “significant costs” would be incurred if it were to investigate all the transactions.

The report also raises the prospect of the Government deciding not to continue the remaining, non-Siteserv transactions, noting “it will be a matter for the Government and the Oireachtas. to consider which of the remaining 37 transactions, if any, it wishes the Commission to investigate further.”

Siteserv

Regarding the investigation into Siteserv, the commission has requested another extension of time, which has been granted by the Government. In a detailed timeline, it suggests it will be able to conclude its work by April 30th, 2021, with a draft report on the first two phases of its five-phase investigation furnished to relevant parties for review by the end of December this year.

The remaining phases would be sent for review at the end of February next year, and the draft review period would run until the end of March.

The commission’s ability to investigate as planned has “inevitably been impacted” by the Covid-19 pandemic, although it has heard evidence and worked remotely. There are a “small number” of witnesses it still needs to call, although the body notes it also wants to recall some witnesses – although they will be “limited in scope”.

So far, the commission has gathered 500,000 pages of documentary evidence and over 100 witness statements, and has heard more than 250 days of evidence, amounting to 40,000 pages of transcripts.