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Published: Friday January 31, 2014 MYT 9:50:02 PM
Updated: Friday January 31, 2014 MYT 9:50:56 PM

Ireland puts first bankers on trial since crisis

The setting sun is seen in a sign outside Government Buildings in Dublin December 5, 2011. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

The setting sun is seen in a sign outside Government Buildings in Dublin December 5, 2011. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland put three former bankers on trial on Friday in its first such case since the financial crisis that forced it to accept an 85 billion euro (69 billion pounds) international bailout.

The three former executives of collapsed Anglo Irish Bank pleaded not guilty to charges of providing unlawful financial assistance by lending money to others to buy the bank's shares, boosting its stock price.

The high-profile trial of former chairman and chief executive Sean FitzPatrick and two other executives, Willie McAteer and Pat Whelan, could run for several months.

Ireland's banking crisis cost taxpayers more than 60 billion euros ($81 billion), or about two-fifths of national output, forcing it to take an emergency package in 2010 from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Though Dublin has now completed its bailout and growth has returned, it still has one of Europe's highest levels of national debt and has to implement more austerity to ensure its economy is on solid foundations.

"The major offence involved here is that Anglo provided certain financial assistance for the purchase of their own shares," Judge Martin Nolan told potential jurors, hundreds of whom showed up for selection.

All three accused sat in the dock wearing sober suits, FitzPatrick with his arms folded, while the jury was chosen.

The men are alleged to have provided loans to investors known as the "Maple Ten" and to the wife and five children of bankrupt businessman Sean Quinn to enable them to buy shares in the bank. The maximum possible sentence is five years in prison for each charge.

Whelan, the bank's former managing director for Ireland, faces seven more charges that he was privy to fraudulent alteration of facility letters addressed to seven investors relating to terms for loans. He also pleaded not guilty to those charges.

The bank, whose failure cost Irish taxpayers some 30 billion euros, was put into an accelerated liquidation process last year.

When Ireland's property bubble burst, the country of 4.6 million plunged deep into crisis and recession and many Irish people had their salaries cut and taxes hiked to help pay debts resulting from the rescue.

Nolan said anyone who had worked or held shares in the bank or other financial institutions, or who had formed strong opinions on Anglo Irish, should not serve on the jury.

"If you've expressed a strong view in a public forum I do not think you should serve," he told the potential jurors. "Any members of the jury panel that have expressed views one way or another in public, on Facebook or on the Internet, should exclude themselves."

($1 = 0.7373 euros)

(Writing by Sam Cage; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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