Two former directors of Anglo Irish Bank convicted of a giant white-collar crime which was pivotal in the 2008 collapse of the Irish banking system will not spend a day in jail after a judge said the main blame lay with government regulators.
The two men, William McAteer and Pat Whelan, were bothy found guilty last month. In their sentencing, the two men were sent for assessment for their suitability for community service but incredibly, both will escape jail.
Judge Martin Nolan said “a State agency had led them into error and illegality”, pointing the finger at Financial Regulator Pat Neary and his deputy.
The release of McAteer and Whelan on a non-custodial sentence this week follows the highly controversial clearing last month of Anglo Chairman Sean ‘Seanie’ Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is the man most associated in the public mind with the network of bankers, developers and politicians whose back-room dealings brought about the collapse of Ireland’s main banks. That collapse forced successive Dublin governments to seek emergency international ‘bailout’ loans and the introduction of an austerity drive which drove hundreds of thousands of Irish families into poverty.
The jury found that loans of Anglo bank funds were improperly authorised by both McAteer and Whelan to enable the purchase of Anglo’s shares. There was a fear in the banking and political circles that if the Anglo share price was not supported it would “go down”, and undermine the entire financial system. However, the solution they reached to converting artificial bank loans into share purchases, was highly illegal and expressly forbidden in commercial law.
Judge Nolan is no stranger to controversy after jailing a man in 2012 for six years for importing garlic from China without paying the EU’s ‘garlic tax’, which is designed to protect French garlic growers from foreign competition. In contrast, he later freed a man found guilty of two serious sexual assaults, and he was again accused of undue leniancy this week.
Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty, responding to the sentencing, said that the Irish people have been shown no such leniancy. He said the public had been forced to serve a jail sentence because of bankers’ crimes.
“I can’t help but think tonight of the many good people I have met over the years who said to me that they know no banker will ever serve a day in prison for what they did to this State.
“The judge in the Anglo trial has correctly pointed out that other bankers and agencies share the blame for what happened at Anglo. However, two bankers were found guilty of a corporate crime, the only bankers to date to have been convicted. Their sentence - community service.”
Left-wing politicians also pointed to the numbers of those who have imprisoned last year for relatively minor offences, including 411 who were jailed for failing to pay their TV licences.
“We have seen in the past that if someone cannot pay their TV licence, they’ve faced jail sentences and often served those sentences,” Mr Doherty said. “People have been sent to prison for unpaid fines. If they simply couldn’t afford those fines, or choose to feed and clothe their children over paying them, that was seen as their problem.”
The current government’s cosy relationship with an unreformed banking system has again come under scrutiny after the current coalition government backed the 843,000 euro pay packet awarded to Richie Boucher, the boss of state-owned Bank of Ireland, which also collapsed under the weight of bad loans in 2008.
“The bankers involved, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour, and greedy developers have escaped the excesses of the 30 billion euro worth of austerity that has been foisted onto the shoulders of the ordinary Irish family,” Mr Doherty said.
“ While the families face poverty, unemployment, emigration and other hardships, these two bankers today face community service. Who has got the better deal?
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said he was disgusted. “It is clear to see there is one law for the bankers and the wealthy elite in this country and a completely separate one for the poor and working classes.
“And while this is all going on, we have the chief architect of the Anglo implosion [former Anglo CEO David Drumm] living the life over in the United States.
“He’s sauntering around at the moment doing what he likes while poor people are put in prison because they can’t afford their TV licence. Frankly, it’s disgusting and it sickens me.”