After a complicated investigation of more than three years, three of Ireland’s former top bankers were this week charged with criminal offenses.

More high-ranking bankers, including Massachusetts-based former Anglo Irish Bank CEO David Drumm, could be included in later prosecutions in an investigation which started in February 2009.

The first people charged, former Anglo finance director Willie McAteer and ex-managing director Patrick Whelan, were arrested on Monday, one at his home and one on a road into Dublin.

Shortly after 5:35 a.m. on Tuesday morning, former chairman and chief executive of Anglo Irish Sean Fitzpatrick was arrested by arrangement at Dublin Airport when he returned on a flight from the U.S.

All three have been charged with 16 offenses of alleged financial irregularities at the bank.

The 16 charges relate to loans advanced to 10 millionaire developers and the wife and five children of Sean Quinn, once Ireland’s richest man, in July 2008.

The 10 developers, called the Maple 10, were named in court as Paddy McKillen, Seamus Ross, Brian O’Farrell, John McCabe, Gerard Maguire, Patrick Kearney, Gerard Conlon, Gerard Gannon, Sean Reilly and Joseph O’Reilly.

Anglo made the illicit loans to prop up its share price and, in turn, public confidence in the bank and prevent the bank shares from collapsing.

The three now charged could face up to five years in jail for each charge as well as heavy cash fines.

Investigators believe a total of €1.1 billion was advanced to the Maple 10 and the Quinn family so they would, in turn, buy shares in the bank.

It is illegal for a company to use its own money to support its share price, save in limited circumstances.

The Maple deal was allegedly put together after top executives at Anglo discovered that Quinn had made a massive punt on Anglo shares, and it was rapidly going sour.

There were fears that Quinn would be forced to sell his shares on the open market at rock bottom prices and that would panic other investors and wipe out the remaining value of the bank stock.  That’s the kernel of the plot which investigators hope to successfully prosecute in court.

Fitzpatrick, 64, was arrested on Tuesday by Gardai (police) attached to the Office of the Director Corporate Enforcement and taken to the Bridewell Garda station in central Dublin.

Detective Sergeant Brian Mahon told the court that FitzPatrick, who lives in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, was charged at 8:08 a.m. and replied “no comment” to each charge.

There was no objection to bail and FitzPatrick was ordered to sign on every Wednesday at Irishtown Garda station in south Dublin and to give Gardai 48 hours notice if he plans to leave the state.

Looking tanned and dressed in a dark blazer, blue shirt, pink tie and beige trousers, Fitzpatrick remained seated and silent with his hands on his lap as he looked at the judge who was taking down notes detailing his arrest.

He spoke once, saying “thank you” after the judge agreed to release him on bail. His sister Joyce O’Connor stood bail in the sum of €10,000.

He is due in court again on October 8, the same day as McAteer and Whelan will appear in court again.    

They appeared at the same court on Monday. McAteer, 61, of Rathgar, Co. Dublin, was Anglo’s former finance director and second highest-ranking executive after chief executive Drumm.  

Whelan, 50, of Malahide, Co. Dublin, is a former Anglo board member and managing director of Anglo’s Irish business.

The court heard that neither gave an answer to detectives when the 16 charges were read out to them. Both were given bail.

McAteer handed in his passport to court officials and must give 48 hours’ notice if he plans to change address.

Whelan’s solicitor said Gardai had accepted he was not a “flight risk” and were not looking for his passport. He agreed to sign on once a week at his local Garda station in Malahide.

He works during the week in London and was ordered to give 48 hours’ notice if he travels anywhere else outside Ireland,

When the three appear in court again in October books of evidence will be presented, and it is expected a date will be set for a trial before a judge and jury in the higher Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

Anglo was nationalised at a cost of about €30 billion to Irish taxpayers and renamed Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Limited (IBRC) under its state ownership.

As chief executive and then chairman, Fitzpatrick built Anglo as what at one time appeared to be one of the biggest success stories of Ireland’s boom years.

However, Anglo was badly exposed by the bursting of Irish property bubble and suffered the largest corporate loss in the history of the Republic of Ireland.

FitzPatrick stepped down from his position in December 2008, a month before Anglo had to be bailed out by the state.