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Here’s what happened on the first day of the Anglo trial

Seán FitzPatrick, Willie McAteer and Pat Whelan are all on trial in a case expected to last four months.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Updated 11.40pm

THE TRIAL OF three former senior executives at the now-defunct Anglo Irish Bank, including former boss Seán FitzPatrick, has begun at the Courts of Criminal Justice in Dublin.

The three men appeared before Mr Justice Martin Nolan in a packed courtroom which was standing-room only from when the trial began at 10.37am today.

The three, Seán FitzPatrick of Greystones in Wicklow, Pat Whelan of Coast Road, Malahide in Dublin, and William McAteer of Auburn Villas in Rathmines in Dublin,  all pleaded not guilty to 16 charges under section 60 of the Companies Act of counts of providing unlawful financial assistance to people – including the so-called Maple 10 – in 2008 to buy shares in the bank.

Whelan also faces seven charges of being privy to the fraudulent alteration of loan letters sent to seven people.

The three sat in a row on the left-hand side of the court, rising when the judge entered the court and when the charges against them were read out.

imagePat Whelan outside the court today. (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Whelan, the youngest of the three at 51, was dressed in a dark suit with a pale open-necked shirt and no tie. Seán FitzPatrick, 65, wore a dark blue suit, a light blue shirt and a pink patterned tie. McAteer, 63, wore a pale shirt and a light pink tie with a black suit.

Opening the trial, barrister Paul O’Higgins SC for the prosecution told the jury that a bedrock of the Irish legal system is that defendants are considered innocent until proven otherwise, and asked them to bear this in mind throughout the case.

‘Suck eggs’

He said that the prosecution will argue that the money lent in July 2008 to the Maple Ten and members of the Quinn family was done so in “very extraordinary circumstances which had nothing whatsoever to do with the ordinary course of the bank’s business”.

He told the court:

In effect, what the prosecution says in this case is that there was lending by Anglo Irish Bank for the purchase of its own shares, that the three officers of the company on trial at the very least all knew about it, and the prosecution will say not only did not take all reasonable steps to prevent it, but in fact either did it, authorised it, carried it out, or at the very least, took no step whatever to prevent the default by the company, and therefore the prosecution says were guilty of an offence under Section 60 of the Companies Act.

The barrister told the court that he did not want to teach anyone “to suck eggs” in describing how the case had come about, but said that he wanted them to understand the full details of what had happened at Anglo Irish Bank.

He said that the Financial Regulator had become anxious about the situation at Anglo Irish Bank which developed through 2007 and 2008 and had wanted to see a resolution of the situation.

imageWillie McAteer arrives at the court earlier today. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

O’Higgins gave the jurors an overview of how Sean Quinn had built up ownership of Anglo Irish Bank through contracts for difference (CFDs), telling jurors: “We’re not talking about thousands here and we’re not talking about millions here. We’re talking about tens of millions and maybe hundreds of millions”.

He said that it was “perfectly legitimate for Anglo Irish Bank to try to resolve the Quinn situation, but they weren’t entitled to do it illegally”.

Of the three accused, the prosecution said it maintains that “Mr Whelan was very much involved in carrying out the transactions, Mr McAteer was involved but not as involved in carrying out the transactions, but knew all about them, and Mr FitzPatrick, as chairman of the board, was told about the lending”. O’Higgins told the jury that “how much exactly [FitzPatrick] knew about the transactions is up to you”.

imageSean FitzPatrick leaves the court this evening. (Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

O’Higgins told the 15-person jury – the largest ever sworn in for a case in Ireland – that just 12 of them will decide on the verdict. The 12 will be decided by a ballot when the case ends.

O’Higgins said that the unusual number of jurors was selected because given the predicted length of the trial, it was possible that someone would have to drop out at some stage.

Jury

The trial began by dealing with a juror issue which had arisen since the 15 members were chosen on Friday.

The judge asked if all members of the jury were still happy to serve and one man asked to speak to the judge privately. He gave the judge a piece of paper which the judge read before saying that he would excuse the juror from serving.

A second juror told the judge that an issue had arose when he had spoken to his family on Friday and told them that he would be serving. The man had discovered that his sister had served as deputy company secretary to IBRC, which he had not known.

Both sides said that they had no issue with the man serving.

Mr Justice Martin Nolan read out a list of more than one hundred witnesses who are due to appear before the trial, which is expected to take up until 31 May. The list of witnesses is so long that it took the judge several minutes to read the full list.

The potential replacement jurors, who had been waiting in a separate room, were told that if they knew of any of the witnesses, they should excuse themselves.

When they were called into the courtroom, the judge outlined a number of other possible reasons why they could need to excuse themselves from serving.

imagePhotographers surround Sean FitzPatrick as he leaves the court this evening (Pic: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland)

Potential jurors were told that if they held such strong views on the issue that they felt they could now try the case fairly, or if they had ever expressed public views on the case online then they should not serve. Anyone who owned bank shares was also asked to excuse themselves.

Ten jurors spoke privately individually to the judge and were immediately excused while one juror was challenged by Seán FitzPatrick’s legal team and excused. After several minutes, a woman was selected for the jury and sworn in.

The judge asked the jury to take a brief recess and through the same processes to select a new foreman and told them that they could select the same foreman as they had previously had .

The trial resumed at 12 noon for just under one hour before breaking for lunch from 1pm until 2.05pm. It then ran from 2pm until 4pm. It will resume again at 10.30am tomorrow.

Before the jury was discharged for the day, Mr Justice Martin Nolan warned the members not to talk about the case with their family and friends, or on the internet .

He also said that if any members of the jury were travelling together on public transport he advised them not to talk about the case “because people listen”.

Originally published at 12.42pm.

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