“We like Ireland very much because, unlike the Club Med countries, it doesn’t need structural reform of the economy All it really needs is to get through the financial crisis that was caused when its banks went berserk. But Ireland’s fundamentals are still there…Ireland will once again become the Celtic Tiger.”
Now US Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross with Simon Coveney in Washington DC last October
The accusation is quite simple. Ross, through his investment firm WL Ross & Co., took a near 35% stake in the Bank of Ireland in 2011, during the depths of the crisis. In 2012, he joined the company’s board of directors, but by 2014 he was selling his stake.
He made 500 million euros ($682 million), selling his shares at 26 to 33 euro cents a share over a few months. Ross stepped down from WL Ross & Co. – which is currently being sued by former employees for fee gouging – when he joined the Trump administration.
That would all be fine if it weren’t for the fact that it was later found that the Bank of Ireland was using deceptive accounting to make its balance sheet appear healthier than it was. Without that, Ross would not have been able to sell his shares at such a premium.
This alleged deception was discovered in 2015, shortly after Ross sold his stake, and of course the bank’s stock price suffered as a result. Ross, who as a board member, should have been familiar with the going-ons at the company, especially after doing due diligence and selling at the top.
And, if in the course of doing due diligence, he found out that there was something wrong with the bank’s accounting, he had a duty to report that to shareholders. If he didn’t, and he sold with that knowledge, as the report points out, that is a violation of insider trading laws.
Former Bank of Ireland Chief Executive Richie Boucher
Asked about whether the bank had any issues impending similar to those that were identified at Permanent TSB in relation to customers and the mortgage interest rates they were entitled to secure, Mr Boucher said if the bank had any material disclosure of that kind, it would be making it.
“I’m talking to the market today. Anything that would have a material impact on our reputation is something I would disclose. If we identify a mistake, we engage with the regulatory authorities and do remediation with the customers expeditiously,” he said.
The bank announced on Friday that Mr Boucher had informed the company of his intention to leave and said a selection process was under way to appoint a new CEO. Mr Boucher said he would would continue in his role “pending completion” of this process, having led the bank since February 2009.
Mr Boucher said that while he enjoyed his job and was excited about the group’s “transformational investment” in its IT systems, the time was right to hand over the baton.
Earlier this week Bank of Ireland said it had identified another 6,000 customers who were wrongly removed from low-interest tracker mortgage loans. This brings to 10,300 the number of people affected by the controversy at Bank of Ireland alone.
he total cost of putting customers back on low tracker rates, refunding them for overcharged interest payments, and compensating them at a rate of 10pc of the refunds, will cost the bank up to €200m. This is up from €26m previously set aside by the bank.
“What do you think about this famous Bank of Ireland ad. I just heard on the news there…the Bank of Ireland are apologising, apologising for what?
“Have you been living on Mars or something for the last 24 hours, you may not have heard. Bank of Ireland put out an ad featuring a real-life person who’s going to go back and live with the parents while she saved for a deposit for a house.
“And they’re all outraged. All that Twitterati are outraged. Outraged about what?
“Like it’s been difficult to buy a house forever. It was difficult for my generation, for my children’s generation, it was difficult for everybody. Of course, I mean, of course people move back and live with the parents in an effort to save money.
“On this morning’s [Irish] Independent there’s a woman who’s actually not eating because she’s saving for a deposit because she’s going to lose the place she’s renting at the moment and the rental deposit in the next place is going to be a lot of money and she literally is not eating to put the amount of money together.
“It is a fact of life that people who have to raise a deposit or pay a mortgage or pay rent make special effort but this whinging generation who has no other way talk about, except on Twitter, this whinging generation cannot face the stress of a university examination without stroking a dog to keep him calm.
“What are ya going on about? How are you ever going to survive in a world which is full of challenges which every day you face a challenge in your home life, in your social life, in your work life, in your sporting life.
“Every day, life is a challenge. And if you think you’re going to be mollycoddled for the rest of your life, then you have another thing coming. And the Bank of Ireland, the bank that I banked with since I had my first bank account in 1961, why oh why did it cave in to this sort of claptrap?
“Either the story was valid or it’s not valid. I mean there was an Irish woman who was head of the British marketing board and she said only 50% of advertising works, the trick is which 50%. So, of course, you do some advertising, it’s not great; sometimes it’s super.
“So when the fella at Avis came up with the idea ‘Avis tried harder‘, because they were number two to Hertz and, it’s an absolutely brilliant piece of advertising which I think exists to this day.
“We were all buying pints of stout because somebody said ‘Guinness is good for you’. Ok, the Bank of Ireland fella didn’t get it quite right but all you whingers just shut up, will ya? And stop, not just annoying me, because it’s easy to annoy grumpy old George, but annoying everybody, everybody who actually works for a living, saves for a house and goes through all the kinds of things that adults have to do.
“All us adults are teed off with you kids who are aged between 20 and 40.”
You may recall the Dáil debate on Wednesday in which Nama was discussed in detail.
During it, Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy spoke about Bank of Ireland in respect of Nama.
She questioned the legality of Nama selling assets it obtained from Bank of Ireland, to entities such as Cerberus, when – according to financial consultants she has spoken with – the assets were owned by the Irish Central Bank-European Central Bank, and not the Bank of Ireland.
Reading part of a document that she obtained, into the Dáil record, Ms Murphy said:
“It appears that Bank of Ireland has delayed the recognition of losses with the financial position of Bank of Ireland being portrayed incorrectly when the bank drew down emergency funding from the Irish Central Bank-ECB.
“In an effort to delay the recognition of losses, Bank of Ireland relied on the International Accountancy Standards Board, IASB, rules. The particular rules in question, IAS 39 and IFRS 9, only apply to published accounts.
“However, IASB is a private entity and company law supersedes IASB. In 2010, the then governor of the Irish Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, raised concerns that Irish banks were delaying the recognition of losses, and the problems it was causing from a regulatory perspective.
“In addition, it appears that the financial position of Bank of Ireland was not portrayed correctly in accordance with the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board, CARB, when the bank drew down its funds from the Irish Central Bank-ECB.
“NAMA claimed to have acquired approximately €10 billion in assets from Bank of Ireland in 2010. Some of these assets were sold by NAMA to Cerberus, but Bank of Ireland appears to have portrayed ownership of these assets when the assets were, in fact, owned by the Irish Central Bank-ECB by virtue of the aforementioned company law rules.
“In the Bank of Ireland’s interim accounts 2011, page 100, it states that the ownership of the assets would be de-recognised when substantially all the risk and rewards of the ownership have been transferred to NAMA. This would only occur when the ownership of beneficial interests was legally transferred to NAMA.
“As such, the situation is that NAMA stated it had acquired assets from Bank of Ireland when according to research and company law they were not Bank of Ireland’s to sell.”
Readers will note that Ms Murphy raised similar concerns at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on January 19 and also raised the matter briefly on TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne on Wednesday evening.
In addition, also in the Dáil on Wednesday, Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace spoke about a financial consultant Cormac Burke who has been working with the Namaleaks team.
Mr Wallace said:
“Cormac Butler has also been making the point that when Wilbur Ross – Donald Trump’s secretary of congress nominee – purchased Bank of Ireland shares in 2011 and then flipped them in 2014, for a profit of €477million, he did so with the advantage of having access to the financial position of the bank which was not in the public domain, information which was not available to smaller shareholders.
“I’d like the minister to confirm or deny that his, that his officials are now aware that the activities of Wilbur Ross and his sale of Bank of Ireland shares is the subject of an investigation in the US. “
Further to this…
Saoirse McGarrigle writes:
Two financial experts Ed Heaphy and Cormac Butler have been analysing the banking crisis for the past eight years.
They claim that Bank of Ireland deliberately hid the extent of massive losses for five years because, if it failed, their assets would automatically be taken over by the European Central Bank (ECB).
They also claim the ECB itself was aware of how dangerously close Bank of Ireland was to insolvency – where a bank has suffered huge losses and has not enough assets to meet its liabilities – but continued bailing it out.
It means that Bank of Ireland’s bad debts should never have been transferred to Nama in the first place.
Mr Heaphy said: “When a bank is insolvent the ECB automatically assumes control of its assets. The Bank of Ireland was not the true owners of the assets and therefore it should not have transferred them to NAMA.”
Mr Butler said: “A bank automatically becomes insolvent if it hides substantial losses because creditors will refuse to provide funding to banks that fail to keep proper books of accounts.
“This forces the bank to sell assets at distressed prices.
“Bank of Ireland uses mortgages to give to the Central Bank as collateral. Some of the collateral had fallen substantially in value, but Bank of Ireland never disclosed these significant losses.
“The value of the mortgages used as collateral by the Bank of Ireland fell for two reasons. Customers pledged their property as security for the mortgage and that fell in value. Also customers lost the ability to repay because people had lost their jobs.
“This is in breach of the Companies Act 1990 – the failure of banks to recognise losses from the mortgages falling in value is a breach of company law because it is difficult to see if the bank is solvent. They were insolvent but they weren’t disclosing it.”
Mr Heaphy added: “They [BOI] admitted in the Banking Inquiry that they exploited a supposed loophole in the accounting standards which apparently allowed them to hide their losses.
“In fact, the law requires them to write down the value of the mortgages, but they thought that they didn’t have to. It’s their ignorance of the law. The bank was no longer the true owners of the assets, the ECB should not have transferred assets to NAMA.
“But if the ECB had confirmed they owned the assets, it would be admitting Bank of Ireland was insolvent.”
Mr Butler added: “If they (ECB) admit the insolvency then they wouldn’t get their money back. The ECB, like any other creditor, is not allowed to take back loans it advanced to an insolvent bank.”
“In such cases, the bank must be liquidated with broadly all creditors treated equally. By keeping quiet about the commercial bank’s insolvency the ECB was able to transfer its losses to the Irish government, which is potentially illegal.”
Auditors Price Waterhouse Cooper never disclosed that the bank was either insolvent or very close to it.
On October 15, 2010, the then ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet threatened to withdraw extra funding because of fears that the Irish banks were not ‘financially sound’.
His solution was for the Irish government to inject fresh funds into the bank so that he could withdraw illegally the loans he advanced.
Hedge funds bought Bank of Ireland bonds at distressed prices and said that they wanted the 100% price back.
Mr Butler added: “The Government said ‘no they must take responsibility for some of the losses’, but the hedge funds said because Bank of Ireland has not admitted to the losses, we don’t have to take any losses.
“The hedge fund should have taken the losses, but the Government faced legal challenges and therefore decided not to burn the bondholders.
“Bank of Ireland had a lot of losses built up which were hidden therefore the hedge fund claimed that Bank of Ireland was solvent.”
Mr Heaphy added: “The Irish Government paid dearly for its failure to admit that some losses were hidden.
“It left the hedge funds with an opportunity to profit at the expense of the Irish taxpayer.”