Disgraced former Anglo Irish chairman Sean Fitzpatrick refused to attend a meeting of a parliamentary banking watchdog investigating his financial affairs this week as new details emerged of an eight-year borrowing spree that shareholders in his bank claimed cost them their life savings. Fitzpatrick's snub to the all-party Economic and Regulatory Affairs Commit-tee coincided with revelations that the Irish Nationwide building society gave tens of millions worth of sterling and dollar loans to him as part of his scheme to hide up to €122 million in borrowings from Anglo Irish. The loans were part of a series of transfers of cash between Irish Nationwide and Anglo Irish to conceal his borrowings from auditors as well as from shareholders and the public. According to The Irish Times one loan of $26 million in September, 2006, was given by Irish Nationwide when Anglo Irish gave an undertaking that it would repay the loan if Fitzpatrick couldn't. The financial regulator and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement are investigating the loans. Also under the microscope as jaw-dropping revelations continue to emerge from the banking sector is a €4 billion hidden deposit from Irish Life and Permanent to Anglo Irish last September. IL&P chief executive Denis Casey has announced his intention to resign following the controversy. Two other senior officials at IL&P have already quit. The new details about Fitzpatrick's loans emerged as Irish Nationwide had its debt rating - an indication of its ability to repay its borrowings - downgraded on Monday by two notches to one level above speculative or "junk" status, a situation that would stop many large companies investing in the building society's bonds. Lower ratings will force the institution to pay higher interest rates at a time when it is preparing to raise €1.5 billion in the markets this year to cover debt payments. Last month legislation nationalizing Anglo Irish was rushed through the Dail (Parliament) and the upper house, the Senate, when the government decided to take the troubled institution into public ownership to bring stability back to the financial system. In December, Fitzpatrick was forced to resign as chairman of the bank when it was revealed he had been hiding multi-million euro loans to himself over eight years. He cited legal advice as his reason for staying away from Tuesday's meeting of TDs (members of Parliament) and senators on the Committee on Economic Regulatory Affairs. Members were furious at what they regarded as a deliberate snub. Independent Senator Shane Ross, who in his capacity as a business journalist for the Sunday Independent exposed the Anglo Irish scandal, said the committee system was in danger of becoming irrelevant if senior bankers were not compelled to attend hearings. Committee chairman Michael Moynihan said, "We need and deserve a full explanation as to what went on at the bank which led to the necessity of it being nationalized." The committee has written to the government asking that a motion be put before the Dail that would compel witnesses to attend hearings. Meanwhile, as the fallout from the banking crisis continues, the Irish Independent reported that bankers could face up to 10 years in jail for their involvement in the Anglo Irish deposits controversy. Paul Appleby, head of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, who will deliver a preliminary report on his investigation next month, told the paper that options open to him included the possibility of calling in the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, which has the power to bring criminal charges against those suspected of fraudulent behavior. Appleby said, "We will make an appropriate decision when matters are clearer." His office was established in 2001 to enforce the rules laid down in the Companies Acts against both companies and company officers. Its 45 legal, administrative and accounting staff includes eight Gardai (police), many of whom have previous experience in the Garda fraud squad.

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