Former executives at the Anglo Irish Bank broke company law and carried out lending practices that were "absolutely illegal", a Dublin court heard on Wednesday.
Three ex-bosses flouted the rules when the now-defunct institution lent hundreds of millions of euros to 16 people in the summer of 2008 at a time when its share price had collapsed, the Irish state's prosecutor said.
On day one of the trial of former executives Sean FitzPatrick, William McAteer and Patrick Whelan, Paul O'Higgins, the senior counsel for the Irish Director of Public Prosecutions said the bank's lending to these individuals had "nothing whatsoever to do" with normal lending practices.
The trio all pleaded not guilty to charges that they had unlawfully provided financial assistance to the 16 individuals, who include Ireland's one-time richest man, Sean Quinn.
In his opening speech to the 15-strong jury – a historic first in juror numbers in Irish legal history – the state's lawyer said the bank was so desperate to get members of the Quinn family to borrow from it, even as it struggled for survival in the summer of 2008, that its executives followed some of the Quinn family to holidays in Portugal and the south of France.
O'Higgins told the trial that when holidaymakers saw their bank manager turning up at their resort they would be expected to "run for the sand dunes". But Anglo Irish bosses where so keen to convince the one-time tycoon's family to purchase the banks' shares with more borrowings that they went to resorts in the south of France and Portugal in 2008 to track them down, O'Higgins told the court. At the time Quinn and his companies already owed the bank over €2bn (£1.7bn) before they were offered more loans that summer, he said.
He said that around the time Anglo Irish Bank chiefs were offering the loans worth tens of millions of euros, the bank's share price had plunged from €17 per share in 2007 to €4.50 in the summer of 2008. The loans which the state says were illegal totalled €175m to the Quinn family and related companies, and €450m to the so-called Maple 10 group of Irish investors.
The trial in Dublin is likely to last up until 31 May, the court was told. It will hear from hundreds of witnesses and examine millions of documents. Quinn is a witness alongside several members of his family who will give evidence at one of the most complex and controversial trials in the history of European financial crime. There was no sign of any of the expected protests outside the court buildings close to the city's Phoenix Park on Wednesday morning as the three former executives arrived.
The opening proceedings, in a packed court No 19, were taken up with finding a 15th juror. At the start of the trial, the judge, Martin Nolan, told the courthouse he had received a letter from a male juror that led to him being relieved of his duties. The trial continues.
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