Ex-bank chairman cleared of 'fraud'

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: Sean FitzPatrick was cleared of all charges. Sean FitzPatrick was cleared of all charges.

The former chairman of the defunct Anglo Irish Bank has been cleared of all fraud charges over a loans-for-shares scheme months before the bank collapsed in January 2009.

Sean FitzPatrick, 65, from Greystones, Co Wicklow denied providing unlawful financial assistance to a select group of clients to buy shares in the bank in July 2008 as the stock value tanked.

The jury will resume deliberations on two other directors Pat Whelan, 51, of Malahide, Co Dublin and William McAteer, 63, of Rathgar, Dublin over the provision of 619 million euro of loans for a group of investors dubbed the Maple 10 and the family of bankrupt former industrialist Sean Quinn.

The deal was allegedly concocted to unwind a secret stock market punt by Mr Quinn who borrowed hundreds of millions from Anglo to cover losses on the doomed investment.

Twelve jurors returned the majority verdict in the landmark trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court - the first prosecution connected to the collapse of Anglo, regarded as the bank that brought Ireland's economy to its knees.

FitzPatrick shook hands with his legal team in the courtroom after his acquittal on 10 counts.

In a statement outside the courts complex, Mr FitzPatrick thanked his family, friends, legal team and the jury.

"First of all I would like to thank my wife, my two sons and my daughter, and my sisters who have supported me not only during this trial but for the past six years of great personal difficulties," he said.

"I would like also especially to thank the women and men of the jury who have found me not guilty of all charges."

He added: "To all my friends who have stood by me in particular two very special friends, I will always be truly grateful for their support during this very difficult time.

"I now simply ask that the courtesy extended to me and my family during the trial by the media be maintained and the privacy of my family which has been intruded on over the past six years will now cease."

Mr FitzPatrick said it would be inappropriate to take questions and walked to a waiting taxi.

The former bank chairman, regarded as having built Anglo over 30 years to become the fastest growing bank in Europe during Ireland's much-vaunted Celtic Tiger period, had originally been charged with 16 counts of fraud.

He showed little emotion when the verdicts were delivered.

He winked at family members in the courtroom and shook hands with McAteer and Whelan before walking from court holding his daughter's hand.

The charges related to 619 million euro loans - 450m euro for the Maple 10, a handpicked secret circle of Anglo clients, mostly developers and two of whom were worth more than a billion at the time, and 120m euro for five of Sean Quinn's children and his wife Patricia.

It was put in place to unwind the 28% holding of Anglo shares built by now bankrupt tycoon in a doomed 2.4 billion euro (£1.9 billion) punt on the bank's value.

Mr Quinn had used investment banks to buy Contracts for Difference (CfD), a complex trading derivative which boiled down to gambling that Anglo's share price would rise.

Judge Martin Nolan had earlier directed the jury to find Mr FitzPatrick not guilty on the six charges relating to the Quinns.

After three full days deliberating - about 13 and a half hours in total - they reached a majority verdict on the remaining 10 charges against the ex-banker.

The seven women and five men had been told to put aside their prejudices about bankers when determining verdicts.

Judge Nolan had also told them the attitude or actions of the financial regulator were totally irrelevant, as was the involvement of city of London investment bank Morgan Stanley, which completed the deal.

He also warned that the defence of Anglo having legal advice for the deal was also irrelevant.

The jury will return tomorrow to deliberate on the full 16 charges against McAteer and Whelan.

The state's case against Mr FitzPatrick was that the loans were extraordinary business and in contravention to section 60 of Ireland's Companies Act and even as a non-executive director and chairman he had a responsibility.

No-one has ever before been prosecuted for a breach of that law.

The verdict draws to a close just one aspect of complex fraud investigations focusing on the turbulent months before Anglo was nationalised in January 2009 at a cost to Irish citizens of about 30 billion euro.

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