Seán Quinn: used the stock market's 'one-armed bandit'

Forget about golden circles and sweetheart deals. Leave aside concerns about dodgy loans. At the heart of the Anglo Ten affair is a question of whether or not there was a conspiracy to thieve on a grand scale.

There is a prima facie case that an organised crime was committed. The crime of insider trading involves an attempt to defraud the market. This is not a victimless crime. If you are paying into a pension fund, or own shares, then you are the target of any crime on the market. In this case, there may have been a conspiracy to steal your money.

The undisputed facts are straightfoward. Anglo Irish was in a jam. For months, Seán Quinn had been using the stock market's one armed bandit – contracts for difference – to secretly build up a stake in the bank. Contract for difference is what is called a financial instrument, but should really be described as gamblers' manna. It involves betting on share prices through mostly borrowed money, and permits the gambler to keep his identity secret.

By last March, Quinn had built up a stake of 25% in the bank, mainly through chasing losses. Everybody, from the bank chiefs to the fairy godmother regulator felt it was dangerous for one individual to own a quarter of the bank.

They had to offload 10%. Then Quinn could cash in his chips and reveal his identity as the mystery owner of the other 15%. Ten men, good and true, were rounded up to buy the 10% of bank shares for €451m. The bank loaned them the money to buy bank shares with very little security: as low as a quarter of the value of the loan. It would be like a bookie handing out free betting slips for large wagers on the favourite at Punchestown. The boys couldn't lose.

So far, so crazy. The potential for serious crime rests in who knew what when. One element of the process involved Quinn declaring his identity to the stock exchange. Once it became known that the mighty Quinn was the mystery owner, it could reasonably be expected that the share price would appreciate.

Were the 10 aware that Quinn's announcement was part of the process? That is what is known as "price sensitive information". Trading on price sensitive information is insider trading. What has to be determined is whether or not the insider trading in this instance constituted a crime. Back at the racetrack, it's akin to getting word that a horse due to run is so juiced up he can't but win.

Quinn's identity as the owner of 15% of the bank was announced on 15 July. Over the following two weeks, the share price headed for the sky, appreciating by over 60% from around €4 to €6.40. Already, the boys with their perfect loans were sitting on a profit of up to €300m. According to Friday's Anglo Irish report, €83m has been repaid. Was this money generated from selling shares at the higher price?

The honeymoon didn't last too long. Anglo's price began heading south again in August. If the house of cards that was the construction industy hadn't come crashing down, the boys might have walked away with 10s or hundreds of million, on the back of no investment. Practically all the risk was carried by the bank's shareholders, which these days is you and me.

There is enough evidence to suggest that it's time for the lads to 'fess up on what they knew. In the tradition of enforcing the law on lesser mortals, they should be woken early one morning by officers and brought away to help with inquries.

As with other cases of suspected organised crime, they should be dispatched to different stations around Dublin and interviewed about their knowledge of the incident. Sometimes, in cases like this, one of the suspects decides to cut a deal with the cops. If there was any criminal activity in this instance, there is a good chance that one of them might take this route.

Whatever about the 10 boys, the case for dragging in the top bodies in the bank is overwhelming. The 10 may not have known all the facts. It is conceivable that they didn't realise what exactly they were involved in, although a dark cloud does hang over their actions.

The bankers were in possession of all the facts and must surely answer a case as to whether they were involved in a conspiracy to defraud or manipulate the market. Insider trading is just one of a number of crimes that may have been committed. If the law is to mean anything, this case must be dealt with by the authorities with complete rigour. The people through the DPP, the victims, workers paying into pension funds, the shareholders of the bank, all are entitled to their day in court.

Of course, we had a policeman on the job, ensuring that law and order would be maintained among the banksters.

The fairy godmother financial regulator Pat Neary appears to have had an obsequious attitude to bankers rooted in 1950s Ireland.

In the case of the Anglo Ten, he received legal advice from Anglo that what they were doing was completely within the law. He didn't obtain his own independent advice on the matter. He didn't investigate what exactly was afoot. He took the bankers' word, because they were honourable fellows.

Neary's light regulatory touch was not something that he applied across the board. While banks were allowed to run riot with lending, and Anglo Irish was bringing the concept of banking to a new low, Neary came down heavy on those who don't orbit in rareified circles.

In 2006, at the height of the property madness, the banks' fairy godmother declared himself concerned at the level of lending in credit unions. He told the World Conference of Credit Unions that some of the Irish unions were involved in "aggressive lending", which reached as high as £50,000 in some instances. Why, he wondered, didn't these people go to banks instead. "One should always question why any financially sophisticated borrower would not obtain the best rate of loan finance available," he said. They must have been cheering to the rafters in Anglo Irish boardroom when they heard that one. Pesky credit unions couldn't be allowed stand in the way of the march of a nation.

This two worlds concept wasn't unique to Neary. Throughout public life, there developed a tendency to tiptoe around anything that looked dodgy in the banking and commercial worlds. If there appeared to be a crime committed, and if the suspect wore a white collar, the transgression was pushed away into a quiet recess rather than vigourously pursued, like a dark family secret that is better left unsaid.

So it was that Sean Fitzpatrick was confident enough last December to declare that his deception in moving around €120m in loans was not illegal, but "inappropriate". He didn't harbour any guilt about his activity. He was merely "disappointed" in himself.

Contrast that with the language applied to those who can end up claiming more in social welfare than that to which they are strictly entitled. Any money recouped, or excess payments reclassified, is reported as being the proceeds of fraud. There is no room for mistakes at that level of society, no question of something being inappropriate.

In his 2007 annual report, the head of the Social Welfare appeals office, Brian Flynn, referred to this classification

"In some cases appeals officers have noted that some deciding officers are applying the "fraud" provision of the legislation in all cases involving overpayment." He wrote. "Yet some overpayments may arise because of a change of circumstances since the date of the original decision."

One law for those who deal in millions, another for the recepients of basic survival payments.

The time for pussyfooting around the wealthy is past. The world is looking in on corporate Ireland and seeing untamed wild prairies where cowboys plunder at will.

The country is already paying higher costs for borrowing. If the law isn't applied and seen to be applied in this instance, it will cost even more. Today's children and their children may well end up footing the bill. It's high time to get real.