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Former chief of collapsed Anglo Irish Bank Seán FitzPatrick dies

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Seán FitzPatrick, the banker who came to symbolise Ireland’s Celtic Tiger boom-and-bust, has died of a heart attack aged 73.

The blunt-speaking financier, who built Anglo Irish Bank into a financial juggernaut that spectacularly crashed after reckless loans and dubious accounting practices, was rushed to hospital last week after suddenly taking ill. He died on Monday, according to his family.

FitzPatrick remained unrepentant about his role in precipitating a crisis that plunged the banking sector into a €64bn bailout after the global financial crisis exposed a colossal liquidity crunch.

“He went from being the poster boy of the Celtic Tiger to the whipping boy of the country’s crash,” Simon Carswell, author of Anglo Republic, Inside the Bank that Broke Ireland, told the Financial Times. “He was the emblem of Ireland’s banking-driven boom and bust.”

FitzPatrick — known as “Seánie” to his friends and “Fitzie” behind his back at work — joined what grew into Ireland’s third-biggest bank in 1974. He swiftly rose to the top as the bank expanded, running Anglo Irish Bank Corporation as chief executive from 1986 to 2005 and chair from 2005 until leaving in disgrace in 2008 as the bank fell apart.

He had championed a speedy loan approval model that saw Anglo Irish Bank, then the country’s third biggest institution, behind AIB and Bank of Ireland, rocket from a valuation of about €600m in 2000 to more than €13bn in 2007 at its peak.

Property developers, whose flashy projects were transforming Ireland from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s in a period that earned the country the Celtic Tiger moniker, became the bank’s biggest customers. Anglo Irish earned a reputation as the developers’ favourite institution as the nation’s economy skyrocketed.

But his success speedily unravelled. It emerged that FitzPatrick had for several years been concealing tens of millions of euros in personal loans by shunting them off the books — a practice that was deemed immoral, but not illegal. Unlike his successor as chief executive, David Drumm, and other senior banking figures, FitzPatrick was never convicted or jailed.

He was acquitted in 2017 after a 127-day trial of criminal charges relating to allegedly misleading auditors.

Patrick Honohan, former central bank governor, said in 2015 it was “unwise, rather than criminal” actions by bankers that precipitated the crisis, and that their “unrestrained and reckless” behaviour had been behind Ireland’s economic crash.

When the financial crisis bit, Anglo Irish’s reckless lending caught up with it and it was losing €1bn a day, Carswell said, prompting the government to step in. FitzPatrick had by then made a fortune amassing stock in the bank, though he was declared bankrupt in 2010.

The Irish Times newspaper said the bank “lost money the old-fashioned way by making one crappy loan after another”. It needed a €29.3bn bailout — nearly half the total that was pumped into the nation’s banks to stop them from going under.

But FitzPatrick told an interviewer in 2011 he could not “say sorry with any sincerity or decency” for a banking collapse he blamed on global problems.

A rugby player in his youth and an avid golfer, FitzPatrick kept a low profile in recent years.

Many figures in the Irish financial world declined to comment for fear of speaking ill of the dead. Ultimately, “he was an almost tragic figure, for himself and the country”, said one.

This article has been amended to reflect the fact that Patrick Honohan’s tenure as central bank governor began in 2009

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