Page last updated at 12:10 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

Profile: Anglo Irish Bank and Sean FitzPatrick

Sean FitzPatrick
Sean FitzPatrick was arrested by detectives in a dawn raid

The Irish Republic's dazzling "Celtic Tiger" economy was once the envy of the world and Anglo Irish Bank was one of its shining lights.

Sean FitzPatrick served as chief executive and then chairman of the bank, lending billions of euros for development in Ireland and the UK.

The smooth-talking, debonair dealmaker oversaw a period of huge success and as it would later turn out, unsustainable excess.

The multi-millionaire banker stepped down in December 2008 after admitting hiding from the bank's shareholders 87m euros of personal borrowings he had taken from Anglo between 2000 and 2007.

Mr Fitzpatrick had invested in property funds, wealth management products, Anglo shares, film finance and pension investments. He maintains a stake in a Nigerian oil well.

He hid the loans from public view by moving funds before the end of the financial year.

A month after he left the bank in disgrace it was nationalised, as the credit crunch brought it to the brink of collapse.

It was already a meteoric fall from grace, but when police raided the bank's Dublin headquarters in February 2009 it still came as a shock, creating panic among investors and sending the Irish stock market to a 14-year low.

Dawn raid

The police came calling again on Thursday when Mr FitzPatrick was arrested at dawn, and detectives searched his house in the picturesque seaside town of Greystones, County Wicklow.

The arrest came amid a number of ongoing separate investigations into the bank's affairs, including inquiries by the Financial Regulator and the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement.

Anglo Irish Bank branch
Anglo Irish Bank was nationalised after almost going bust

Irish fraud detectives have spent months interviewing more than 100 witnesses, and his arrest was not unexpected.

It is believed the inquiry should be completed by late spring, and the Director of Public Prosecutions will decide whether criminal charges should be brought.

Anyone found guilty of offences under the Companies Act and the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act, 2001 could face a jail sentence of up to 10 years.

So how did Anglo Irish Bank end up becoming a symbol for the decline of the "Celtic Tiger"?

The basic problem was the bank was hugely exposed to a small number of high-rolling borrowers who were investing almost entirely in an out-of-control property market.

The Irish economist David McWilliams described the bank in 2006 as being "simply a leveraged hedge fund betting its own and its clients' money on overvalued property".

With some prescience, he added: "Normally when the property market collapses, these type of outfits go bust."

Things started to unravel in January 2008, when the Financial Regulator learned the bank had been warehousing directors' loans in another bank.

Two months later, the collapse of US investment bank Bear Stearns led to a massive sell-off of shares in Anglo Irish.

'Golden circle'

In June 2008, the bank lent 450m euros to a "golden circle" of 10 investors to buy the bank's shares using the bank's own money in an apparent attempt to prop up its share price.

The global credit crunch had undermined confidence in Irish banks, and a slump in the Irish property market led to a collapse in the value of linked investments.

In October 2008, the Irish government acted to shore up its financial system by guaranteeing all deposits in the Republic's banks and all money borrowed by the banks from other financial institutions.

Last year, Anglo reported the biggest loss in Irish corporate history when it made a loss of 4.1bn euros (£3.7bn) in the six months to March on the back of large impairments on its property loans to developers.

Its latest set of results, due to be published soon, are expected to be much worse.

Last week, Mr FitzPatrick told the bank he could not repay 70m euros (£63m) he owes in unpaid loans.

As a result, the bank has started legal action against him in an attempt to recover the debt.

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