ASTRANGE silence could be heard on Wednesday, in the hours after former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drumm was convicted of conspiracy to defraud and false accounting. Listening closely, you could make out what might be described as a smattering of applause. Where were the cheers? Where was the popping of Champagne corks? Why are we not happier?
I did a quick, wholly unscientific, survey of family and friends and found various causes of apathy, disillusionment and scepticism – each one more depressing than the next.
One reason is that nobody is going to believe this is really over until Wednesday week, June 20, when Judge Karen O’Connor pronounces her sentence. Drumm has, after all, fought against his prosecution every step of the way and he’s not yet behind bars.
Another reason is that this was a complicated sequence of events – albeit one whose consequences were starkly simple – and some observers may have just lost the thread of it in the middle of some golden circle or other and felt unable or unwilling to pick it up again.
Another is that Drumm has come to be regarded as the poster boy for the skulduggery at Anglo but nobody believes he acted alone or that the culture he represented didn’t spread far and wide. Where are the others? And on that same note, people are inclined to wonder if anything has really changed, from a regulatory point of view, in the conduct of risky money through risky channels. Couldn’t this happen again?
BUT the gloomiest reason of all is that it’s been almost 10 years, since the incidents described at Drumm’s trial took place. Sadly – shockingly – we have just got used to what happened. Outrage about the kind of highlevel financial chicanery that cost us our economic sovereignty seems to have worn off.
And yet… look again at the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank, which cost the State €29bn. Look again at the bailout, which cost the State any semblance of autonomy. Remember again the grave faces of our Troika overlords telling us exactly how much money, in euros and cents, poor people should be made to survive on. Look again at the conviction of David Drumm. Feel the outrage again.
Victim impact statements are not allowed in cases such as this. Those are reserved for crimes against the person and playing any part whatsoever in flushing an economy down the toilet is not a crime against the person, don’t you know. But what if the casualties of Anglo’s cataclysmic demise were to get a chance to have their say? Who might we hear from? Let’s number some of the victims.
People who lost their homes when the banks foreclosed. People who lost their jobs when the economy tanked. People whose businesses went under. People who weren’t lucky enough to have their debt nationalised. People who were cut loose from social services they absolutely depended on. People who lost their self-esteem along with their livelihoods. People who lost hope altogether and took their own lives. The bereaved families of those people. People who had to emigrate. Their families. People who are today still embarrassed to look their children and grandchildren in the eye because those blameless youngsters will be paying off this debt on our behalf in perpetuity, long after we’re gone. People, citizens of a sovereign republic, who’ve somehow been led to believe that gross inequality is perfectly normal. Everybody. All of us.
DRUMM is among nine individuals to have faced charges in connection with Anglo Irish Bank so far. Former finance director Willie McAteer, head of treasury John Bowe, and former Irish Life & Permanent chief executive Denis Casey were all convicted in 2016 for their role in the same €7.2bn fraud on which Drumm has just been tried. McAteer was jailed for three-and-a-half years, to be served concurrently with a two-and-a-half year sentence he got last year in for receiving a fraudulent €8m loan. Bowe got two years and Casey got two years and nine months.
Those jail terms are roughly comparable to the three-year sentence handed down at the Circuit Criminal Court in February to two homeless men who burgled several unoccupied offices in Dublin 2 and stole €1,167 in cash, some mobile phones, and corporate tickets to Punchestown Races. One law for...
Former head of lending Pat Whelan was sentenced to 240 hours of community service in 2014 over the granting of illegal loans to developers to buy shares. The following year the chief operations officer, the former company secretary and an assistant manager were given custodial sentences of 18 months to three years. One was released a few months later and the other two had their convictions overturned on appeal.
Seán Fitz Patrick, former Anglo chief executive and later chairman, has been prosecuted unsuccessfully three times. Most recently, a year ago, he was acquitted on 27 charges under the Companies Act on the direction of Judge John Aylmer, who ruled that the investigation had been flawed.
You can understand why people might have grown tired of all this, and might have sort of given up hope of seeing any of these Masters of the Universe getting their comeuppance. And in a way that very disillusionment is what makes Drumm’s conviction all the more important – all the more timely and necessary. What might have allayed the anger against Drumm in the past would have been an acceptance of responsibility for what he’d done in wilfully deceiving people about the fortunes of his stricken bank back in 2008. But he didn’t. He fled to the US; he resisted extradition; he pleaded not guilty; he put up an expensive and energetic defence.
IN AN interview with Niall O’Dowd of Irish Central in 2011, Drumm complained of a ‘witch hunt’ against him and said that, in 2008: ‘I worked as hard as I could. I did my best working with regulators and with the bank and the board, all of us did.’ Yet later we would all hear him on tape referring to the financial regular as ‘f ****** Freddy the f ****** fly’ and to the Central Bank as ‘that f ****** shower of clowns down in Dame Street’.
He has continued to claim, all along, that he wore ‘the green jersey’ and did his patriotic duty. ‘Judge him with what confronted him at the time, not with 20:20 armchair hindsight,’ his barrister Brendan Grehan told the jury, making a dog’s dinner of a metaphor.
It’s the audacity of the man, the impunity. He seemed to believe – and not unreasonably, given what we’ve seen so far by way of precedent – that the charges wouldn’t stick. Is it any wonder the rest of us thought they wouldn’t stick as well?
After so many years of wellearned cynicism, it’s a relief to be able to see jurisprudence looking its best like this. It’s a relief to be able to point at white-collar crime and say justice is done and is seen to be done. Now let’s see what happens next.