DUBLIN The former head of the defunct Anglo Irish Bank will go on trial next year over his alleged role in Ireland's biggest bank failure, the highest-profile trial of a banker linked to the country's financial meltdown.
Sean FitzPatrick, the face of Ireland's banking crisis after serving as Anglo chief executive during its stellar rise and chairman during its rapid fall, faces 16 charges of fraud relating to the bank's collapse.
He will go on trial on January 13 with fellow former executives Pat Whelan and Willie McAteer, a Circuit Criminal Court judge said on Wednesday. The three have yet to make any plea.
State prosecutors allege that Anglo Irish unlawfully gave loans to a group of high profile investors, referred to by media as the "golden circle", to buy shares in the bank.
They have separately charged FitzPatrick with keeping auditors in the dark over billions of euros of loans that he borrowed, and are also investigating whether deposits from another lender were used to mask large withdrawals at the bank.
A Dublin High Court last Thursday gave investigators a year to complete the probe, which began in 2009.
The Anglo Irish collapse, seen as emblematic of casino-style lending that obliterated the local banking sector and pushed Ireland into an 85 billion euro ($114 billion) EU-IMF bailout, is expected to cost the Irish state at least 25 billion euros.
The long-running investigation has left Irish voters angry that nobody has been jailed for the mismanagement of banks that helped fuel the runaway "Celtic Tiger" economy.
The trial will last at least three months and involve up to 24 million relevant documents, Senior Counsel Brendan Grehan, who is representing Pat Whelan, said.
"It will be considerably more complex than any previous case," Grehan said.
All three men face 16 charges each of providing unlawful financial assistance to the wife and children of Ireland's former richest man, Sean Quinn, and other "golden circle" Anglo investors in July 2008.
Quinn was released from jail this month after serving a nine-week sentence for his failure to cooperate with Anglo's attempts to seize foreign assets that he put out of its reach.
Quinn, the first major player jailed in connection with the country's economic collapse, lost his 4 billion euro business empire over a disastrous investment in the failed bank.
(Corrects paragraph 4 and adds paragraph 5 to make clear that the alleged unlawful loans are the basis of a separate charge from the deposits allegedly used to mask withdrawals)
(Writing by Stephen Mangan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)