Saturday 10 December 2016

Nama 'played man and not the ball' in Project Eagle dispute

Published 19/10/2016 | 02:30

Nama board members Willie Soffe, Brian McEnery and Oliver Ellingham, witnesses at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee meeting at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Nama board members Willie Soffe, Brian McEnery and Oliver Ellingham, witnesses at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee meeting at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke

Nama has been accused of "playing the man and not the ball" by launching a stinging attack on the spending watchdog, in its defence of the controversial Project Eagle deal.

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Chairman of the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Seán Fleming, said if he was a referee, Nama officials appearing before TDs would have gotten a "red card".

Pimco's letter was read into the public record by committee chairman Seán Fleming TD this morning. Photo: Tom Burke
Pimco's letter was read into the public record by committee chairman Seán Fleming TD this morning. Photo: Tom Burke

The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) report into the sale of the Northern loan book found it incurred a probable loss of £190m (€223m) in the 2014 deal.

Nama has rejected this finding. Three of Nama's board members, Willie Soffe, Brian McEnery and Oliver Ellingham faced severe criticism from TDs as they answered questions on the matter.

A statement read by Mr Soffe accused the C&AG of being "simply wrong" in its finding that a probable loss was made on the Project Eagle deal because it came from a "mistaken assumption" about the discount rate used.

Mr Soffe said the 5.5pc rate cited by the C&AG was not the "market discount rate" of 10pc used by Nama in the deal, and it was like "comparing apples and oranges".

Independent TD Catherine Connolly said Mr Soffe's statement was "pejorative".

He defended it, saying it was a response to a report that suggests "that we made a foolish commercial decision". He insisted Nama got the best possible price.

Fianna Fáil TD Mr Fleming counted 10 attacks on the C&AG in Mr Soffe's statement and said he was "shocked".

But Mr Soffe said: "I think it is right that we should defend our position and that's what we are doing. Why should we meekly accept what is very strong criticism?"

Mr Fleming replied: "I'd prefer if a State body would play the ball and not the man."

The issue of the alleged 'success fee' to be paid to former Nama adviser in the North Frank Cushnahan was also raised. The businessman was alleged to be in line for a one-third share of up to £16m if the Project Eagle sale had gone ahead to Pimco, the initial bidder. Mr Cushnahan has denied any wrongdoing.

Asked why Pimco would offer Mr Cushnahan such a fee, Mr Soffe said he had "no idea".

Mr Ellingham said: "It would appear that the persons paying him that thought he was worth some input or value." But Mr McEnery said: "I don't want to speculate about what this is about."

Labour's Alan Kelly asked about the decision to sell the portfolio in a single block. He asked if Nama weighed up political pressure in the North and business risks with Section 10 of the Nama Act - which says it must ensure the best financial return for the State expeditiously.

He asked if Nama "couldn't look a gift horse in the mouth" when an offer was made to buy the whole portfolio.

Mr McEnery insisted: "The paramount focus of the board was Section 10."

Irish Independent

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