From left: Fergal Barry, Jonathan Sugarman and PJ Coogan, presenter of The Opinion Line on Cork’s 96FM this morning.
RTÉ won’t touch him.
But they’re made of sterner stuff in Cork.
Fergal Barry writes:
This morning PJ Coogan conducted the first live radio interview with banking whistleblower Jonathan Sugarman The Opinion Line with PJ Coogan on 96FM
May I particularly call your attention to 37 minutes into the interview where Jonathan speaks of the danger of banks in the IFSC plunging Ireland into a fresh bailout, possibly much larger than the one we are experiencing.
This morning Jonathan Sugarman – whose 2007 warnings about breaches of liquidity requirements at Unicredit Bank Ireland were ignored by the Central Bank – appeared before the finance committee.
During his opening remarks, Mr Sugarman talked about his decision to come forward about what was happening in Unicredit ruined his life.
He also noted how other whistleblowers have been treated in Ireland, specifically Sergeant Maurice McCabe and former Garda John Wilson.
During the meeting, Mr Sugarman said the following…
On being unable to find a job for the past 10 years:
“I’m unable to find work, not even on the European continent...because the minute you Google my name, you see discussions about me in Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann, Australian television, Belgian television, Greek television about the fact that I tend to do my job very well. So much so, that I complied with the law.”
On his resignation:
“I said so in my letter of resignation that, as of this minute, I resign all of my duties because of issues of integrity, I cannot perform contractually what I agreed to do for the shareholders of Unicredit.”
On how the bank reacted to his resignation:
“They were concerned enough to actually offer me employment with another Italian bank in the IFSC, provided I withdrew my resignation.”
On not being able to get any compensation as no sanction has been brought against Uncredit.
“In the absence of a sanction, by the Central Bank, I have had zero legal recourse against Unicredit… because of the fact that the Central Bank failed to issue a sanction, as it should have, against the bank, for breaching the law by 20 times the permissible deviation, lawyers whom I have consulted with said, ‘Until Unicredit has been sanctioned, you have not got a leg to stand on’. Which is why I have now exceeded the time for an Employment Tribunal because there is no sanction.”
“I’ve exceeded the statute of limitations on Employment Tribunals because there is no sanction by the Central Bank. Had there been a sanction by the Central Bank I would have been rightfully able to go to the Employment Tribunal and say, ‘no employee can be forced to commit a crime. Here I am having been forced to commit a crime and sign over repeated crime. As I read out to you earlier, every day is a crime, every day is a breach or a crime in its own right.
“And when the Central Bank admitted to me, at our meeting, that they had sight of other breaches that had gone unreported, i.e. they had seen other crimes, during my tenure at Unicredit, you cannot force an employee to commit a crime. And, therefore, I had no choice, but to resign. And therefore, I should be entitled to receive compensation from the bank and from the Cental Bank of Ireland.”
On not being able to afford to take an action against the Central Bank:
“I have no means. Thanks to friends, I can feed myself. And when I needed to go to the dentist, a few weeks ago, my friends got together and paid the dentist.”
At the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach.
Jonathan Sugarman just gave a thundering opening statement to the committee.
Mr Sugarman is a former executive at Unicredit Bank Ireland in Dublin’s IFSC who resigned in September 2007 after giving a detailed account of enormous liquidity breaches at his bank a year before the financial crash.
“Good morning, Mr Chairman, members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for giving me this opportunity to, finally, put on record some of the factors which contributed to the Irish banking crisis and how I believe these can be avoided in the future.
For those of you who do not know me, my name is Jonathan Sugarman and I was the risk manager for Unicredit Bank Ireland, a bank of roughly €30billion balance sheet which was located in the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in Dublin 1.
I joined the bank in May of 2007. For those unfamiliar with the term ‘risk manager’, it is like a policeman who works within a bank on behalf of the banking regulator which, in this case, was the Central Bank of Ireland. So, effectively, I was there to look out for the people of Ireland.
My job, and that of all risk managers in all banks, regardless of where they are located, is to ensure that the regulations, regarding how a bank is run adhered to and upheld. If they are not, it is my duty, not just to my employer but also to the regulator, to inform them of any activities which may not be within the limit of the regulations under which the bank operates.
In 2007, the regulations under which I operated, Unicredit Bank Ireland, were unambiguous and very clear, as were the penalties for any infringement which might occur. In my case, failure to immediately notify the Central Bank, of a breach of these regulations, could result in a mandatory fine and/or five years in jail.
It is against this backdrop that I wish to talk to you today. I spent the first couple of months at the bank, in 2007, familiarising myself with the systems, products and internal control mechanisms. Having previously worked for two German-owned banks in Dublin, I was well familiar with the risk management practices and the regulations which govern them but, approximately two months into my tenure at Unicredit, I began to notice anomalies which were irregular but happened with a frequency which suggested to me that they urgently required further investigation.
Within a very short space of time, it became commonplace for me to have daily meetings with the chief executive officer of the bank to discuss the ever increasing number of breaches of regulation which I was observing. I was told not to worry; that these were simply IT-related glitches and that there was nothing for me to worry about.
I thought this was somewhat unusual, as, being a risk manager, I would personally, suffer the full weight of the law if it were proved that I was aware of such breaches of regulations and did not report them to the Central Bank.
Needless to say, as a new employee, in a new bank, I went along with the instructions of my CEO for another week or two but there was no effort whatsoever being made to prevent or investigate the real cause of these glitches.
It must be borne in mind that the relative liquidity regulations came into force on the 1st of July, 2007 which is two months after I started working at Unicredit and I was only too well aware of the penalties for not complying.
I now refer you to item six which I’ve provided you with. The requirements for the management for liquidity risk, as were issued by the financial regulator, as he was called then, in 2006, to be enforced in 2007. This is item six, I refer you to page 24. The extract below details the penalties applicable for any breach of regulations which took place after the 1st of July, 2007.
And I quote, this is from Irish law: In particular, section 58 of the Central Bank Act of 1971, which refers to offences and punishments, as amended by the substitution of Section 9 of the Central Bank Act of 1989 states that a holder of a licence, a banking licence, who commits, by act of omission a breach of condition duly imposed and which relates to the licence, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable 1) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding a thousand Irish pounds or, at the discretion of the court, imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to both. Or 2) on conviction, an indictment to a fine not exceeding 50 thousand Irish pounds, or at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or to both.
Further down the page, you can read, if the contravention breach or failure, in respect of which he was convicted, is continued after the conviction, he shall be guilty of an offence on every day, on which the contravention, breach or failure continues after conviction, i.e. every breach was a criminal act. Every single breach was a criminal act.
Further down, section 60 of 1971 Act contains an extension of the offending provisions. This states: Were an offence under this act is committed by a body corporate, or by a person perpetrating, purporting to act on behalf of a body corporate, or an unincorporated body person and has been proved to be so committed with the consent or the approval of, or to have been facilitated by any wilful neglect on the behalf of any director, manager, secretary, member of committee or the controlling authority of such a body, or official of such a body, such persons shall also be guilty of the offence which means not only am I guilty, my regulator is equally guilty – once I’ve notified him.
There is no dispute of the fact I reported that the 20% liquidity breach to the Central Bank in the late summer of 2007 and I urge you to understand the significance of such a breach, and the following explanations should make it relatively easy to understand.
Regulation states that a breach of 1% should send alarm bells ringing and red lights flashing. The Central Bank must be notified immediately.
In the context of driving a car, this would mean that there is a speed limit of 100kph. Driving a 101kph is a breach of law that has to be reported immediately to the authorities. Unicredit Bank Ireland only bothered to oblige the law and notify the regulator when we were speeding at 120kph.
The immediate question that should have been raised by the regulator as soon as I notified them of this should have been: how on Earth did you get to liquidity at 20%, a 20% liquidity breach? Were you not aware when you exceeded 5%? Or 10%? Where were you when you hit 15%?
A breach of 20% implies that the bank came perilously short of liquid assets. The most liquid asset is cash. The events at Unicredit at the summer of 2007 occurred against a backdrop of the first bank run that Europe had seen since World War Two. The entire branch network of Northern Rock, in the United Kingdom, had thousands of customers queuing at the door in fear that the bank was unable to return the cash that they deposited with it.
In the meantime, the management systems at Unicredit Ireland were showing serious shortages of liquidity on a regular basis.
So gentlemen, ladies, as you can see for the above section of bank regulations, that it would not just be me, as the risk manager who would be liable for prosecution but, also, the CEO of Unicredit and more importantly, and I cannot stress this highly enough, any other controlling authority which in this case was and still is the Central Bank of Ireland.
What I find absolutely incredulous is that my life has been utterly destroyed, simply because I did the right thing.
But the people who are jointly liable for the failure to adhere to the regulations, which this house formulated, and passed into law, got off absolutely scott-free.
There were no sanctions whatsoever placed on Unicredit or, more importantly, the Central Bank of Ireland. I remind the committee that I have been unable to work for over 10 years and I am totally unemployable as a result of my upholding the law of the Republic of Ireland.
Had the regulator done its job, it is my contention that the liabilities, which were placed on the shoulders of the Irish nation, specifically, the blanket guarantee which was given to all Irish banks overnight which was effectively a blank cheque underwritten by every citizen in this state would not have been necessary. And this happened just a year after I resigned over the same issue of liquidity.
A year after this, the country was saddled with a €64billion debt incurred by the banks who violated liquidity regulation which I had, the same regulation, which I had tried to warn the regulator about a year before.
At the very heart of this matter, is that neither parent company in Italy, nor the Italian Central Bank knew anything about this breach of regulation until 2010 that is three years later as can be observed in the video clip provided for you in item 14 in which Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, recently states this unequivocally.
The Central Bank of Ireland should have notified both of them immediately. And here we are, ten years later, and Mr Draghi says, ‘I’ve never heard of this’. Said so directly to MEP [Luke Ming] Flanagan sitting right here today.
The question now must be asked how is it that the Central Bank was remiss in carrying out its statutory function and nobody has been officially sanctioned because of it.
My life was destroyed but the life of those who work and worked in the Central Bank were not. You, the committee, must ask why and only you can ask why and get the answers.
In the recent Banking Inquiry with which this very committee and four members of this committee in particular are more than familiar, another whistleblower emerged. The particular investigation in which they were involved was the regulatory stream.
The Banking Inquiry whistleblower made it very clear to members of the joint committee of inquiry into the banking crisis that they were of the opinion that Central Bank of Ireland was being deliberately obstructive in regard to the investigation and it was alleged that the Central Bank withheld certain documentation. This was later corroborated by a former employee of the Central Bank of Ireland.
I am aware that the Banking Inquiry whistleblower made several attempts to ensure that I would give the evidence to the joint committee then. I fail to understand why my attendance was prohibited at that time, while the members of the committee were aware of my case and it’s taken you this long to invite me in here today.
To conclude, Mr Chairman, there are a number of threads of commonality which run through all of the banking systems in this country. And that is certainly the delay between matters of potential or actual financial malfeasance being reported and the time it takes for Official Ireland to admit that it just may have an issue that must be dealt with.
The harsh fact of the matter is that Official Ireland has absolutely and completely destroyed the lives of every single whistleblower who has come forward, regardless from which organ of the State.
It took Maurice McCabe 10 years of battling against the State, to finally begin repairing his life because the State made it as hard as possible for him and his family.
The same goes for John Wilson and how he was treated.
We should mention the Mary Boyle case and, more recently, the cover-up of the Grace scandal.
The problem with this country is Official Ireland those civil and public servants, at the very top levels, the ones who have their hands on the levers of power from any form of sanction while those who do the right thing are vilified and their lives destroyed.
And, finally, the reason there is such a row about getting people to pay for water, or people lying on trollies is because, at the end of the day, the banks and their highly paid executives have always got to be paid.
And it will always be the poor people of Ireland who will suffer the most. Unless this House has finally got the guts to do what is right.
Which is why I’m in shock that items I submitted for you all to see last Monday, by 10 o clock, I had to wait until yesterday, an hour before the close of business, to be told that I had to redact them [including correspondence from the Central Bank]…I wish to thank you and at this stage I would be very happy to answer questions that you may have.”
You may recall a post last week about the launch of a book by Jonathan Sugarman, a former executive at Unicredit Bank Ireland in Dublin’s ISFC.
His book, The Whistleblower, explains how his warnings of liquidity breaches at Unicredit – made in 2007 – were ignored by the Central Bank, a year before the financial crash.
Further to this…
Last night, Tonight with Vincent Browne broadcast an interview Vincent Browne recorded with Mr Sugarman on the day of the book launch.
At the start of the interview, Mr Sugarman explained that he’s an Israeli citizen, whose mother was born in South Africa, and how he started to study economics after finishing his three years of military service with the Israeli army.
He said he worked briefly for banks in Israel before going on to work for the Dutch Ministry for Economic Affairs in The Hague. Later, he went back to Israel but left for good in 1999 – which was when he came to Ireland.
Mr Sugarman’s first job in Ireland was with Microsoft Finance and later he started working for banks before he was eventually headhunted by Unicredit.
Readers may wish to bear in mind that Mr Sugarman was never invited to attend the Banking Inquiry.
From the interview…
Vincent Browne: “When did problems start to arise in Unicredit?”
Jonathan Sugarman: “Probably within the first two or three weeks of the beginning of my job there. There would be a daily set of reports that had to be signed off by the CEO and senior management of the bank, this is daily practice with all banks. As the risk management department, we produce these reports. For example, who are our biggest counterparts in our daily dealings, so that we know that if, for example, we’re dealing with a bank called Lehman Brothers, when we read it in the newspaper that Lehman’s is collapsed, we know that that’s one of our biggest counterparts and we would list these risks daily. Likewise, we would list our exposure to foreign currencies, we would list our exposure to certain industries. Are we lending a lot of money to aviation? Are we lending a lot of money to governments? All of these have particular limits. We don’t just go and trade whatever we want. And so, as a risk manager, I sign off a set of reports every day – to say these are the limits, this is where we are. It’s a bit like getting the results of a blood test where you say – this is where you’re at and these are reasonable parameters. Are you ok? Or are you not ok? And, as the risk manager, it is my job to make sure that we are ok and that every senior manager in the bank is aware of the fact that this is where we’re at.”
Browne: “What were the problems you uncovered?”
Sugarman: “There was a recurring problem with the liquidity figures. These reports are produced twice a day, after the close of business, at 5pm and then once again in the morning, as a repeat performance once all of the processing has done, has been done overnight by the computers, by the head office, etc, etc, to make sure that what we saw last night, yesterday evening at 5pm, was accurate.”
“One of the key factors that we look at in these reports is: what is our liquidity. Liquidity is very simple – it’s a case of we all know how much money we have coming in as wages every month or as income from our businesses. We know that if our income exceeds a million euro a month, then we can go and buy a beamer once a month if we felt like it. But we know what our situation is. So, do we have the liquidity to go and buy something we want. In banking, it would be a case of do we have enough liquidity. Say if a deposited turned up tomorrow morning and wants his money, we have the money to give.”
“Now, obviously, because it is the basis for banking, you deposit €100 with us, of which we keep €10, and lend out €90 – to make it simple. But then if you come back and make a claim on your €100, we have to give you back your €100. We can’t say ‘we’ve only got €10’. So, at every point in time, we have to make sure that, if a reasonable number of people come looking for their money, we’ve got money to give them and that’s liquidity. And this concerns billions of euro every day. I mean we could easily have done deals for €300m, €400m, €500m per deal so we have to make sure that if our counterpart arrives tomorrow morning, to collect their money, that it’s there. You can’t just turn around and say ‘oh I don’t have it’. And the need for the overnight guarantee was because all of the Irish banks ran dry. They didn’t have it.”
Browne: “Ok. But, going back to the problems that you uncovered, what were they with regard to liquidity?”
Sugarman: “So, at the frequency of probably once or twice a week, the figures didn’t reconcile so, as a risk management department, we had our own set of reports. Obviously, every bank has its own accounting department, they have their own set of reports. There is something called prudential reporting which is required by the Central Bank of Ireland. At the end of the day, we all have to sing off the same hymn sheet, so there would be a bit of a parallel calculation being done between us, the risk department, and accounting.”
“Big discrepancies started to show and I said – ok, so which one is the correct one? Because one day this one says there’s a problem; and another day the other one says there’s a problem…”
Browne: “Discrepancies between what and what?”
Sugarman: “Between our liquidity figures and their liquidity figures. And when I said ‘ok, so which are the real liquidity figures, there can only be one set of correct figures?’ And I said ‘if the real figures are the figures that are showing breach, we have to report that breach and, invariably, I got told, ‘no, no, no, the real figures are the ones that show that we are within the limit. And I said, ‘well, how do you know that? I mean this is a €30 billion balance sheet. Do you have a little beer coaster that you keep your own…?’ [He was told] ‘No, no, no, you’re new in this job, give it a bit of a, you know, give it a couple of weeks, you’ll understand our systems better and you’ll see why it’s actually all right’. And this went on throughout the entire summer of 2007. Until one day, the breach was 20 per cent – which is 20 times the permissible deviation of 1 per cent. And, having spent three years in the Israeli army, I wasn’t going to spend five years in Mountjoy [Prison].
“The legislation that I took out earlier [at his book launch] clearly stipulates five years in Mountjoy well, perhaps not Mountjoy but five years in jail.”
“I put my foot down and said we are reporting this breach because I’m the risk manager. If, tomorrow morning, this bank collapses, I, it was on my watch that the bank collapsed. I’m the one responsible. The CEO will turn around and say ‘yes, this is why I pay Jonathan the way I do, he’s the one who’s responsible’. ‘I, the CEO, signed off because my risk manager told me it was all right’.”
“And so, we’re coming towards the middle end of, the summer of 2007. Northern Rock is collapsing; Europe, for the first time since the second World War is seeing people stand outside the banks, frightened that all of their deposits have been wiped out and I’m signing off reports, saying that everything is fine, when I know that it isn’t fine. And what shocked me even further was that, having breached, having reported a breach of 20 per cent – we’re talking about billions here – the Central Bank did absolutely nothing.”
Browne: “When did you report the breach first?”
Sugarman: “I reported this breach during August 2007”
Browne: “What was the form of your communication with the Central Bank in telling them of the breach?”
Sugarman: “I drew up a letter which notified the Central Bank. Each bank operating in Ireland has a team responsible for it in the Central Bank of Ireland. So the letter we sent was to the attention of the head of the team responsible for Unicredit Ireland, the operations of Unicredit in Ireland. So the letter was addressed to him, to notify him that, according to section so-and-so of the law, we are now informing you that we are in breach.”
Browne: “Did you send the letter? Or was it sent by the CEO?”
Sugarman: “The CEO signed the letter. At that stage, I was so adamant about the fact that I wanted to make sure that the Central Bank was going to receive the letter there and then, I hand delivered the letter to the Central Bank on Dame Street.”
Browne: “On that same evening?”
Sugarman: “Same lunch time. This is crucial. I am billions out of pocket. Now this can be…”
Browne: “How many billions was it?”
Sugarman: “I would say roughly €4bn to €5bn.”
Sugarman: “The letter was addressed to the person dealing with Unicredit. I handed it in at the reception of the Central Bank of Ireland.”
Browne: “Ok, did you hear back? Or did your CEO hear back from…?”
Sugarman: “We received the letter of acknowledgement the next day from the Central Bank.”
Browne: “And, other than that, did you have contact with the Central Bank?”
Sugarman: “Which is shocking but no.”
Browne: “They did nothing at all?”
Browne: “Then what happened?”
Sugarman: “In the meantime I had contacted an IT company in London that was recommended to me that was operating in Dublin, doing precisely what that type of liquidity calculation for other banks. Their leading client at the time was a leading Irish bank called Anglo Irish Bank. And so I thought ‘well, if you’re good enough for… and, obviously, the Central Bank were aware of that, that this consulting firm was doing the calculations for Anglo, so I said ‘well, if the Central Bank is happy for them to calculate if for Anglo, you know, I’d be more than happy for them to calculate it for us. And so, I initiated contact with this company. We arranged for them to have access to all of our records and to start producing their own sets of figures, so that we could see where the problem was – if there was a problem.”
“One night, I received a call from the person in charge in London, who said to me, and he knew that I was shocked over this breach of 20 per cent. He said, ‘Jonathan, from the figures that we’ve looked at, your breach is actually 40 per cent’. Now that is when I said ‘enough’.
Browne: “How is it that you didn’t perceive that the breach was 40 per cent?”
Sugarman: “Because of the mayhem in our computer systems and, again, this legislation I showed [at book launch] earlier stipulates very clearly that in order to run a bank you have to have adequate IT systems. You cannot have IT systems producing different figures for the same transaction. And so, this is why I contacted this company. Because I said ‘look, there are discrepancies here, almost every day’.
Browne: “OK, did you inform the regulator that the breach was not 20 per cent, it was 40 per cent.”
Sugarman: “Because my CEO didn’t want us to and that is when I resigned.”
Browne: “What did the CEO say?”
Sugarman: “He had his own reasons, he claimed that what the London company had come up with was just a trial run. I said, ‘yes but that’s a trial run without figures. And we know that there’s a problem. ‘Yes, but it’s, their still separate to the bank’. And so what made it even more worrying is that, even after my resignation – and I maintained contact with the company in London after my resignation – they kept on working on trying to come up with a definitive set of figures for the bank. Only within a few weeks, the Central Bank of Ireland arrived for a scheduled audit of the risk management department and, within the first day of that audit, the link to London was cut off. And I know this from the company in London which, to me, would imply, that the Central Bank, their team that arrived at Unicredit was so horrified a) at the extent of the problem and b) that a third party had full visibility of the problem.”
Browne: “So, you’re saying that some weeks after you brought the letter down the Central Bank yourself in mid-August of 2007, the Central Bank did an audit of Unicredit..”
Browne: “And found that the situation was as you described it, or even worse..”
Sugarman: “Probably worse..”
Browne: “So, it’s not true to say, that the regulator did nothing?”
Sugarman: “Well they covered up. Because, if I walked in there and said ‘heavens have fallen’, there should have been literally a raid by the Central Bank the next day – to say, how are you conducting your affairs? If we told you that a breach of 1 per cent is problematic, how can you turn up and tell us that you’ve breach by 20? I expected the Central Bank to have sent down a team the next day, if not that same afternoon, to say, ‘we gave you a licence to operate a bank in Ireland, assuming that you knew how to run a bank?’ They arrived for a scheduled audit two months later.”
TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne will broadcast an interview Mr Browne has carried out with Jonathan Sugarman at 11pm.
Mr Sugarman is a former executive at Unicredit Bank Ireland in Dublin’s IFSC who resigned in September 2007 after giving a detailed account of enormous liquidity breaches at his bank a year before the financial crash.
From top: Cover and sample page of Jonathan Sugarman’s book The Whistleblower; and Mr Sugarman (centre) at the launch of his book at Buswells Hotel in Dublin this morning, with MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Diarmuid O’Flynn, of Ballyhea Says No
A bit of a hero, in fairness.
Jonathan Sugarman is a former executive at Unicredit Bank Ireland in Dublin’s IFSC who resigned in September 2007 after giving a detailed account of enormous liquidity breaches at his bank a year before the financial crash.
Mr Sugarman, whose warning were ignored by the Central Bank, gave an address (above) to MEPs last week and earlier today launched his book The Whistleblower, published with the help of Luke Flanagan MEP, in Buswells Hotel, Dublin 2.
.@whistleirl “What I did was report a crime…” Resigned, went into central bank reported it, a crime involving billions, nothing happened.