Friday 21 July 2017

Cushnahan: 'No knowledge' fees were to be paid by Chinese buyers of Nama assets

Nama adviser defends his involvement in 2012 bid to sell State agency assets

Frank Cushnahan says he 'had no reason to believe he was not entitled to encourage the interest of potential buyers' for assets controlled by Nama and other financial institutions
Frank Cushnahan says he 'had no reason to believe he was not entitled to encourage the interest of potential buyers' for assets controlled by Nama and other financial institutions
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

Nama's former Northern Ireland advisor, Frank Cushnahan, has moved to address growing speculation over his involvement with an English businessman in a bid to sell Nama's Northern Ireland assets to a group of wealthy Chinese investors, whom it is claimed had at least £1bn (€1.19bn) at their disposal.

While Cushnahan remains at the centre of the ongoing controversy surrounding Nama's 2014 sale for €1.6bn of its Northern Ireland loan book to US private equity giant Cerberus, last Friday he issued a statement to the Sunday Independent through his solicitor in which he said that he "had no knowledge" of an alleged fee which would have been payable to him and the English businessman proposed in an information memorandum prepared for prospective Chinese buyers of Nama assets in 2011.

But while Cushnahan insisted he was unaware of the proposal for the payment of a fee to him, the statement conceded that he had been involved in efforts to secure Chinese buyers for Nama's assets when he was serving on the State agency's Northern Ireland advisory committee.

The statement stressed that "had any commercial agreement been reached with the Chinese or any other potential purchaser, then my client would have made a full disclosure to Nama".

Referring to Cushnahan's involvement in efforts to find buyers for Nama's assets, his solicitor added: "My client had no reason to believe that he was not entitled to encourage the interest of potential buyers and long-term investors from overseas. I have categoric instructions that any discussions would have related to not only Nama debt but would also have involved other institutional assets, this forming the core basis of Mr Cushnahan's business and expertise over the years. Indeed, his extensive experience in this field had been one of the reasons behind his appointment to an advisory role on the [Nama] Northern Ireland sub-committee".

Pointing out that any actual sale of Nama's assets to Chinese investors or other purchasers would have attracted "enormous media attention and scrutiny", the statement referred to this newspaper's coverage of Cushnahan and the English businessman's efforts to secure such a sale as "misleading and published totally out of context".

In providing the statement last Friday afternoon, Cushnahan's solicitor said he was doing so "in order to pre-empt the release to the media of yet more selective emails".

While Cushnahan has consistently maintained that his communications with the English businessman refer to "legitimate business discussions, which he was satisfied had been bona fide and lawful", the content of a number of the emails raises questions that merit further explanation.

In an email sent to the English businessman on April 24, 2012, Cushnahan wrote: "I need to get an update from you on the 'distressed assets' and the previously expressed 'good intentions' of our Chinese friends to advance the discussions on the previously provided submissions documentation. You are aware, I have spent a considerable amount of time on various developer proposals which have included discussions, preparatory detailed analysis and also visitations to government sources especially that related to UK residency. Could you send me an email (addressed only to me) as to what is happening so that we do not lose credibility with some very 'heavy hitters' who may be of particular interest to us in the period ahead".

Today, Cushnahan remains at the centre of the controversy surrounding Nama's sale of its Northern Ireland loan book to US private equity giant Cerberus for €1.6bn. While all parties have denied any wrongdoing in relation to the transaction, it is being investigated by the UK's National Crime Agency and the SEC in the US. It is also being examined by the Dail's Public Accounts Committee, the Standards in Public Office Commission, and the Northern Ireland Assembly's finance committee.

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