The country’s prime minister Enda Kenny yesterday said he understood the “rage” of the Irish people at the recorded talks between two former Anglo executives laughing and joking at the height of the bank’s funding crisis in September 2008.
The partial transcripts, published in the Irish Independent newspaper, appeared to show the bank’s then head of capital markets, John Bowe, admitting that Anglo had deliberately hoodwinked the government over the size of the bailout required.
Speaking to Peter Fitzgerald, Anglo’s former head of retail banking, Mr Bowe appears to describe how the bank cynically lured the government into a €7bn rescue in full knowledge that the sum would be nowhere near enough to save the lender. The thinking, he suggested, was that once Dublin had been “pulled in”, it would have no choice but to keep picking up the tab.
In the end, the Irish government was forced to pump €30bn into Anglo and roughly the same amount into Ireland’s two other cash-strapped banks, Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank – rescues that brought the entire Irish economy to its knees.
On tape, Mr Fitzgerald asks Mr Bowe how he arrived at the €7bn figure. Referring to a nickname for the bank’s disgraced former chief executive David Drumm, Mr Bowe is heard saying : “Just as Drummer would say, ‘picked it out my arse’.”
Mr Bowe apparently goes on to suggest that Anglo’s management knew €7bn would never be enough. “Yeah, and that number is seven, but the reality is that actually we need more than that,” he is recorded saying. “But you know the strategy here is you pull them in, you get them to write a big cheque and they have to keep, they have to support their money, you know.”
Explaining the alleged entrapment strategy further, he adds : “If they saw the enormity of it up front, they might decide... they have a choice. You know what I mean ? They might say the cost to the taxpayer is too high. But... em... if it doesn’t look big at the outset... if it looks big, big enough to be important, but not too big that it kind of spoils everything, then I think you have a chance.”
Mr Fitzgerald is heard replying : “Yeah. They’ve got skin in game and that is the key.”
On the same tapes, Mr Bowe is heard apparently mimicking officials at Ireland’s Central Bank reacting to an initial request for a loan, saying : “There was a bit of, ‘Jesus that’s a lot of dosh... Jesus f---ing hell.”
He also claims officials reacted by saying : “‘Jesus, you’re kind of asking us to play ducks and drakes with the regulations’ and we said : ‘Yeah’.”
Mr Bowe also relates how officials demanded that “whatever you get from the regulator sorts out the issue”, to which Mr Fitzgerald is heard replying : “Oh yeah, yeah... just makes it f---in’ happen.”
The talks are thought to have taken place within days of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, when Anglo was itself in meltdown with depositors pulling out money at the rate of €1bn a day, spooked by the bank’s exposure to Ireland’s crashing property market.
As the tapes provoked fury in Ireland yesterday, Michael McGrath, finance spokesman of Fianna Fail – which led the government at the time of the Irish bank bail-outs – said : “We need to get to the full truth about the way that bank was run and the level of knowledge the bank’s executives had about its true financial position in September 2008.”
Mr Kenny said : “I understand the rage and the anger of so many people who have been affected by all of this.” He added that the government would make a decision on a public inquiry into the collapse of Ireland’s banking system in “due course”.
Both the former Anglo executives denied any wrongdoing or any attempt to mislead the government, with Mr Bowe referring to “off-the-cuff comments” and “probably gallows humour”.
In a statement via his lawyer, Mr Fitzgerald said : “I am not nor have I ever been aware of a strategy or intention on the part of Anglo Irish Bank to mislead the authorities in relation to the forecasted funding position.”
Mr Bowe said the talks, during a “period of severe and unprecedented market dislocation”, came at a time when Anglo was seeking interim funding. “We envisaged the relevant period of time to be a number of months before the bank would be able to access sufficient alternative funding.”
The furore over the transcripts comes ahead of a high-profile court case into the collapse of the bank. Anglo’s former chief executive, Sean FitzPatrick, and two ex-directors, Pat Whelan and Willie McAteer, are awaiting trial on fraud charges.
The collapse of Ireland’s banking system forced the country into a eurozone bail-out. Anglo has since been renamed the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation and is in the process of being liquidated.