ALL sentences handed down to three former high-ranking bank executives for the parts they played in a €7.2 billion fraud at the height of the banking crisis in 2008, have sent a message – albeit terribly belatedly – that white collar crime will not be tolerated and will be punished once due process has been followed. Ireland does not have a long-standing record of prosecuting white collar crime, so there haven’t been many cases over the years to engender a palpable fear factor amongst intending fraudsters.
The sentences handed down to former Anglo Irish Bank executives Willie McAteer (three and a half years) and John Bowe (two years), as well as former group chief executive of Irish Life and Permanent, Denis Casey (two years and nine months), came after the longest trial in the history of the State. At their sentencing, Judge Martin Nolan said the senior executives had taken part in a ‘dishonest, deceitful and corrupt’ scheme to make Anglo’s finances look stronger than they were.
The Judge also declared that ‘the public is entitled to rely on the probity of blue chip firms. If we can’t rely on the probity of these banks, we lose all trust in institutions’ and he described the conspiracy the three former bankers were involved in as a ‘very serious crime.’
The trio has 28 days from the date of sentencing to lodge a notice of intention to appeal the sentences if any of them wish to do so. In the meantime, they are behind bars and it is expected that other former colleagues of theirs in the banking sector will face trial in due course on similar charges.
In other countries, such investigations and the administration of justice would have been a lot swifter, mainly because there are more specialist resources available to their police forces. This was an epic investigation and trial, which went into great detail, and the Judge commented afterwards that it ‘beggared belief’ that Anglo’s auditors, Ernst & Young, had signed off on the bank’s end-of-year accounts: ‘They should have known what was occurring if they were doing their job properly.’
Despite the jailing of these executives, the jury is still out on the restoration of people’s confidence in the Irish banking system.