Miriam Lord: Central Bank recommends a shot of vitamin D for the Davy gang

For Derville Rowland, the silver bullet is a shaft of sunlight through the company wallet

The normal process is too good for these boys.

What they need is a good spell of sunshine to teach them a lesson.

It’s the only thing they understand, apparently.

“We believe sunshine is the best disinfectant,” the Van Helsing of the banking world told Tuesday’s Oireachtas finance committee. Members were agog when the Central Bank’s chief shyster-hunter explained how these otherworldly creatures can’t cope with the cleansing light of publicity shining upon them. It’s the best way to bring them down.

For Derville Rowland, the silver bullet for untouchable mobs like the Davy gang is a shaft of sunlight shot through the company wallet. She later admitted she would like this to be a SEARing shaft of reckoning light, but the Government still hasn’t brought in the Senior Executive Accountability Regime (SEAR) legislation which the Central Bank has been seeking for a long time.

“Getting found out” is the less glamorous translation of sunshine being the best disinfectant. But where the Davy boys and their ilk are concerned, massive transgressions are cloaked in a different language and a different way of doing things.

Rowland, who heads the Central Bank’s financial misconduct unit, might as well have been talking about catching vampires for all the confidence her words inspired in her audience of politicians. Sunlight may well have a detrimental effect on Vampires Inc, but it doesn’t do much to halt the gallop of the individual bloodsucker.

That a “consortium” comprising some of the most senior figures in a blue-chip stockbroking firm routinely described as “venerable” felt confident enough to stiff a client for millions by undertaking to get the best possible price for his bonds before secretly buying the lot for themselves at a knockdown price is bad enough. But when they were rumbled by the client who discovered their caper, the company proceeded to stymie the Central Bank’s subsequent investigation at every turn.

That they did this when the country was just getting off its knees after a devastating recession brought about by reckless and lawless behaviour in the financial services industry shows how little was learned by some unrepentant greed merchants.

Still Masters of their Universe, and no reason to think otherwise.

“The long arm of the law needs to feel a few white collars here,” Mick Barry told the two witnesses from the Central Bank (deputy governor Ed Sibley was the second one, though he hardly opened his mouth. The very impressive Derville Rowland ran the show). That still-lingering sense of being untouchable “needs to be shaken”, said the TD for Cork North Central.

The committee members were unable to get any sort of satisfaction from the Central Bank when it came to finding out if criminal charges were, or might, be considered

Shyster-hunter Rowland came armed with her sunlight and her “day of reckoning”, which may or may not prove a stake through the heart for Davy Stockbrokers. She used the phrase on at least four occasions and it seemed at odds with the very corporate and legalistic replies she employed with precision throughout her appearance.

It was a nice line for the media, though.

Her evidence was infuriating. For the politicians, it was a simple case of how can the individuals behind the scandalous Davy stroke be brought to account for their actions? Shaming the company, with all the very serious reputational damage that brings, is one thing.

The disinfectant of sunshine might work on the institution. But it was pointed out that while all members of the Davy gang of 16 may now have left the company – over a scandal which happened seven years ago – some remain in control of a sizeable portion of the firm through separate personal vehicles.

First-class seats

They will be able to reflect on the error of their ways in the first-class seats when winging their way to the best sunlight money can buy.

Despite their best efforts, the committee members were unable to get any sort of satisfaction from the Central Bank when it came to finding out if criminal charges were, or might, be considered.

Yes and no, seemed to be the only interpretation. Although Derville Rowland pointedly said that now matters are out in the open, other bodies might be able to take a certain course. She wasn’t at liberty to say which bodies, although it might be the police and it might also be the Office of Corporate Enforcement, but she couldn’t possibly confirm anything.

But what she made very clear was the response of Davy Stockbrokers in the last number of years as her team pursued their enquiries. She described what sounded like a disgracefully wilful lack of co-operation from the firm.

“We certainly have experienced a very challenging approach throughout the entirety of this investigation,” she revealed, up to and including threats of litigation.

Venerable Davy’s reaction was characterised by a “lack of candour” (lying, in real money) and an effort to “minimise the transaction” (the stroke) and “miscategorise” the seriousness of events (cover up).

The witness clearly takes a very dim view. She said the bank “had recourse to its statutory toolkit” in an attempt to bring the Davy boys to book. And that toolkit isn’t up to the job and needs beefing up, she intimated.

Her evidence was all about reading between the very complicated and wordy lines. The complex rules and “regulatory obligations” which operate in the world of high finance need special interpretation and application.

Settlement

Davy negotiated its fine down by nearly €2 million because the company finally agreed to a settlement and to admit its actions in public. No individual names to made public, though. No individual fines.

The committee was gobsmacked by this.

People shake their heads and say it's one law for us and another law for them. Not true. Not true at all. It's one law for us and no law for them

Again, Derville Rowland explained the discount was akin to what happens in criminal law, where people get reduced jail sentences for a guilty plea. In the case of Davy stockbrokers, the sunshine of a public statement meant avoiding a very complex hearing phase.

Fair play to the Central Bank for saying this with a straight face.

But in reality, Rowland could only deal within the parameters set out in law – very complicated and multi-layered civil and/or criminal law. Politicians (open to lobbying) are the ones who make them or put the making of them on the back burner.

Listening to the painstakingly chosen words of the witness, you could see how the law has to tiptoe around rich, powerful business interests and everyone has to be so ridiculously careful about what they say about a glaring scandal.

People shake their heads and say it’s one law for us and another law for them.

Not true. Not true at all.

It’s one law for us and no law for them. Or so it seems when hearing about Davy’s swaggering sunshine boys.

“The reprimand and fine imposed on Davy reflects the serious regulatory breaches and aggravating factors in the investigation, including the firm’s lack of candour when first reporting the matter to the Central Bank,” said the Van Helsing of the Central Bank.

In America they had Bernie Madoff. Bernie went to jail.

In Ireland we have Davy Madeoff (with someone else’s millions).

And Davy Letoff (with a reprimand and a fine).

Since the news broke last week, that old Western singalong keeps going around in our head.

“Davy, Davy Profit, king of the wild frontier!”

Short of coming to work wearing buckskins and raccoon tail hats, could the Davy 16 have been any more brazen?