Whistleblower repeatedly warned authorities of looming financial crash

Jonathan Sugarman says his life has been "completely destroyed" since he first highlighted alleged financial wrongdoing

Whistleblower repeatedly warned authorities of looming financial crash

Whistleblower Jonathan Sugarman arrives at Leinster House, Dublin, 13-04-2017. Image: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

A former banker who raised serious concerns over alleged financial irregularities at a Dublin-based bank before the economic crash has spoken of how his life has been "completely destroyed" since he first blew the whistle.

Jonathan Sugarman - a former risk manager at the Dublin branch of Italian bank ‘Unicredit’ - appeared before the Oireachtas Finance Committee today.

He said he had repeatedly warned the Financial Regulator that the Irish banking system was facing a liquidity crisis before the financial crash – adding that had his warnings been heeded, the bank guarantee and resultant bailout could have been avoided.

“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 the Irish banks overnight, which was effectively a blank cheque underwritten by every citizen in the State - would not have been necessary,” he told the committee.

Billions that do not exist

Mr Sugarman has said he repeatedly alerted authorities to the fact that Unicredit was operating in the IFSC with liquidity levels vastly below what was required by law.

He said he made it clear to the regulator that in his position at the bank, he was breaking the law and “signing for billions that do not exist.”

He said he also informed the Central Bank about the irregularities - but after receiving a letter of acknowledgment, he never heard anything back from them again. 

He has also claimed that he met with senior government figures - including Ministers Michael Noonan and Richard Bruton as well as former Tánaiste Joan Burton - about the irregularities. 

Unicredit Bank Ireland had an operation worth €39.94bn in Dublin in 2007.

Irish law required the bank to keep the equivalent of 90% of its liabilities in reserves of cash and assets - however upon taking up the position of risk manager, Mr Sugarman said he noticed the bank was operating with far lower reserves. 

After raising his concerns with the bank he claims he was told “not to worry.”

He also reported alleged offences under the Central Bank Act to Gardaí in Rathmines eight years ago – but said he never heard anything back after being told the fraud squad was investigating his claims.

Oireachtas Finance Committee

In his opening remarks to the committee this morning, Mr Sugarman said he has been “totally unemployable” for ten years as a result of his attempts to bring the truth to the public domain.

“Official Ireland has absolutely and completely destroyed the lives of every single whistleblower who has come forward, from whatever walk of life they've come,” he said.

“Those with their hands on the levers of power are immune, while those who do the right things have their lives ruined."

He pointed to the treatment of Garda whistleblowers, Sergeant Maurice McCabe and former Garda John Wilson as further examples of the response whistleblowers can expect within the state.

“What I find absolutely incredulous is that my life has been utterly destroyed 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 scot-free,” he said.

He said he has been living off the kindness of friends to give him “food to eat and a roof above my head” for the past decade as a result of the damage to his reputation.

"All the major political parties"

Mr Sugarman has never given up on his attempts to push for the truth and late last year, he was one of several whistleblowers to give evidence about his experiences to the European Parliament.

He told the parliament his claims were ignored by “all the major political parties in Ireland” as well as the Financial Regulator.

He said he had held face to face meetings with the now Minister for Education, Richard Bruton and former Tánaiste Joan Burton - and had also spoken to the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan.

He said Minister Bruton had agreed to get in touch with the regulator about his concerns although: “nothing was heard from him ever again.”

“Michael Noonan, the current Minister of Finance in Ireland later stated that Fine Gael had never heard of me - although there are minutes of a meeting between me and Richard Bruton at a solicitors firm,” he told the parliament.

“Joan Burton, who later became Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland, met me in person, raised my issue in the Irish Parliament but never said a word once she came to power.”

“The silence is what is working against us. The lack of cooperation is also working against us.”

Mr Sugarman's full speech to European Parliament is available here: