Does whistle-blower deserve better than a cold shoulder?
By Barry Lord
Who is Jonathan Sugarman? It’s likely you may not know, but that could be about to change.
Jonathan Sugarman is the well-travelled, former bank executive, who blew the whistle on his bosses at the Irish branch of the Italian owned firm, Unicredit, when in 2007, as risk manager; he became aware of alleged financial irregularities within the Irish arm of the company.
Sugarman – an Israeli citizen who had held positions in the Dutch Ministry and banking industry in Israel prior to moving to Ireland in 1999 – had been brought in to ensure the Irish branch was adhering to regulations introduced in 2007 regarding liquidity – the amount of money a bank has available – and held sufficient amount of cash reserves and assets to return money to customers should a debt be called in.
When Sugarman claims he learned assets fell short by 20% of the 90% required by the company, he says he reported the discrepancy to his bosses, but claims his new employers showed indifference at best to his findings.
When the company allegedly blamed the supposedly inaccurate liquidity figures on ‘technical glitches’, Sugarman took his evidence to the Central Bank and expected a swift investigation and resolution to the matter. But he claims he found apathy at the highest level.
Dismayed, Sugarman tendered his resignation in September 2007. He alleged there were clear liquidity breaches taking place under the company’s nose, but a reluctance to act on the evidence presented.
Had the chief regulators sat up in their chairs, they may have seen the impending storm on the horizon and avoided the subsequent bank bailout of 2008, at enormous cost to the Irish taxpayer.
Now you would think Sugarman’s reputation is on a par with other known and celebrated whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden, who shone a light on the more sinister workings of the American defence services, or Jeffrey Wigand, the American biochemist, who exposed the dangers of nicotine.
Both men had their stories committed to celluloid (2015’s Snowden by Oliver Stone and The Insider by Michael Mann in 1999.
Only time will tell if Sugarman’s tale will be given the cinematic treatment it deserves, but prior to his recent appearance before the Oireachtas committee, he has been largely anonymous.
Indeed, he claims his professional life has been destroyed since he went public and is now virtually unemployable in this country.
Is it fair that this should be? On the face of it, the answer is no. However, we are a small country and we don’t take kindly to outsiders telling us when something is wrong. We don’t want to see our roof cave in and be met with the neighbour who tells us they saw this coming, as we stand among the debris.
Many will say this is nonsense and refer to the case of Maurice McCabe. The former guard’s reputation was trampled on unmercifully but among the hostile commentary, there was some public sympathy.
If social media is a barometer, sympathy is at a premium for Jonathan Sugarman.
When I was at college, I studied Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. I could never understand why it was so important for the lead character, John Proctor, to suffer for the sake of protecting his name.
Of course this was before I realised that in this country, your name is your currency. The good fortune you enjoy can often depend on the confidence your family name inspires in your prospective employer.
Now Jonathan Sugarman, unlike the Ill-fated proctor, will not go to the gallows but he is clearly learning the lesson that your name counts for much in this country.
In my view, the man is paying the price for simply upholding the principles of the post entrusted to him.
He deserves a great deal more than a cold shoulder.