Wednesday 20 September 2017

EU's Nama probe delay now 'very concerning'

The National Asset Management Agency Treasury building in Dublin
The National Asset Management Agency Treasury building in Dublin

Donal O'Donovan and Ronald Quinlan

Five builders who have asked the European Commission to investigate whether Nama is distorting competition in the market are depending on the Government for the case to progress quickly.

That's according to EU Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager, who told TDs and senators yesterday that it was up to the Government to say if it wants an investigation by her Commission speeded up.

In December 2015, developers David Daly, Paddy McKillen, Pat Crean, Michael O'Flynn and MKN Properties filed a formal complaint with the European Commission, objecting to the Government's plans to use Nama as part of its efforts to address the housing crisis.

The five asked the Commission to investigate whether State provision of funding for property development through Nama breaches State Aid rules, which prohibit governments handing any business an ­advantage not available to its rivals.

The Government has asked Nama to provide finance to builders in order to deliver 20,000 new homes in a bid to alleviate the housing crisis.

Lawyers for the five developers opposed to the scheme described the case as "extremely urgent" in their latest correspondence to the Commission at the end of last year.

They say the Nama scheme could give an advantage to developers whose loans are in Nama and those working with the agency over rivals who operate without its support.

Reacting to Ms Vestager's comments to the Dail's Finance Committee, Michael O'Flynn said: "It's very concerning. This complaint has been with the Commission for 14 months now. We understood it was being given priority treatment, so I'm surprised by Ms Vestager's remarks.

"We thought the complaint was being given priority, but obviously its progress is now dependent on the State against which the complaint has been made, and that's quite extraordinary."

However, Ms Vestager indicated that the complaint from the five developers is not currently a priority for her department - noting that current cases it is considering include Deutsche Boerse's massive planned takeover of the London Stock Exchange Group.

The Commission was "still in the process of looking at the Nama case," and she could not give a deadline for any actions, she told the committee.

"If the Government wants to prioritise the case we can put more effort into it," she said.

In a letter to the Commission in December, the developers sought clarity from on the status of their complaint, noting that over a year had passed since they submitted it. Referring to a meeting with the competition directorate on June 2 last, where they were advised it was receiving "priority treatment", the developers' lawyers said this had yet to be communicated in a formal letter to them.

The letter warned that their complaint may now be brought to the General Court of the European Union to vindicate the developers' rights to obtain a decision.

Irish Independent

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