Thursday 8 December 2016

Nama makes new complaint over adviser on sale of Project Eagle

Shane Phelan and John Downing

Published 13/09/2016 | 02:30

Frank Cushnahan, former Nama adviser
Frank Cushnahan, former Nama adviser

Nama has made a fresh complaint to the public standards watchdog about its former advisor Frank Cushnahan, a central figure in the Project Eagle controversy.

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The move came in the wake of a television programme last week which broadcast a recording of Mr Cushnahan allegedly receiving Stg£40,000 in a bag from a Nama debtor.

The agency had already contacted gardaí and the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) last week alleging that the recording may be evidence of a breach of ethics and anti-corruption laws.

But it raised a further corruption complaint with the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) yesterday.

It is the second complaint by Nama to SIPO about its former Northern Ireland advisory board member in six months.

The agency previously complained that Mr Cushnahan never declared his directorship of a company with loans in Nama.

The businessman, who was appointed a Nama advisor on the recommendation of the North's former finance minister, Sammy Wilson, claims that he was not a director of the firm at the time.

The former Belfast Harbour Commissioners chairman and director of the Office of the First Minister had been working as a business consultant. However, yesterday he filed papers with Companies House, dissolving his consultancy business.

He has declined to comment on the BBC 'Spotlight' revelations, citing an ongoing NCA investigation into Project Eagle.

But he has previously denied any wrongdoing in relation to Project Eagle.

Read more: Q&A: How we got to the cusp of a State inquiry into the Project Eagle sale

The NCA inquiry was launched following the discovery of Stg£7m linked to the sale of the loans portfolio in an Isle of Man bank account.

In another recording that was broadcast by the BBC last February, Mr Cushnahan was heard telling two men that he was meant to receive the money for facilitating the Project Eagle deal.

Calls for a Government inquiry into the deal have intensified over the past week, fuelled by the latest recordings and separate revelations that a Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) report has found Nama could have got hundreds of millions of euro more for the loans portfolio.

Once valued at €5.7bn, the portfolio of loans linked to 850 mainly Northern Irish properties was sold to US vulture fund Cerberus for €1.6bn in April 2014.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said for the first time yesterday that he "wouldn't be opposed" to a Government inquiry into the handling of Project Eagle.

However, Finance Minister Michael Noonan insisted that this could only happen after the C&AG report has first been examined by the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Mr Noonan said the Cabinet would consider the report tomorrow and it was intended that it would be published.

Speaking at the Fine Gael party pre-Dáil think-in in Newbridge, he said: "C&AG reports always go to PAC, and PAC has a legitimate role now to hold hearings on it. And they will do that. I understand that Deputy Seán Fleming, as chairman, will do that."

Mr Noonan said he was not ruling out an inquiry after the PAC had dealt with the auditor's report. "But let's see what comes out of it," he added.

The Finance Minister said he believed Nama would rebut claims that it lost money and could have got further large sums by better handling of the sale. He believed Nama would contest those criticisms on various levels, including before any PAC hearings.

Nama is due to appear before the PAC on September 29 and has also been called before the Oireachtas Finance Committee.

Irish Independent

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