Thursday 17 August 2017

Kenny forced into embarrassing climbdown over NAMA claims

Thomas Molloy and Ralph Riegel

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown about his claims that developers might be buying land from NAMA.

Just 24 hours after he told reporters he was "very concerned" about the alleged problem and wanted Finance Minister Michael Noonan to look at the allegations, a spokesman for Mr Kenny admitted he had "no evidence" of any wrongdoing.

Mr Kenny is "happy" that developers are not buying land cheaply, and there is no need for an investigation. Mr Kenny won't be contacting the agency with any fresh information because he did not claim to have any proof for his concerns, the spokesman said.

The Taoiseach's change of mind came after NAMA said there was no evidence for the concerns. Legislation brought in by the last government bans NAMA or the agency's receivers from selling land to developers who have defaulted.

The spokesman for Mr Kenny said last night he had got his information from "one or two people" who had mentioned the danger about developers buying back their land from NAMA at rock-bottom prices.

"He's happy that it's being guarded against and that it's not happening," he said.

But Mr Kenny's spokesman said he did not know who the "people" who briefed the Taoiseach were.

"No one has approached him with evidence. He just heard it in passing. No one has made a formal complaint," he said.

The furore began when Mr Kenny spoke off the cuff on Monday, saying he was worried developers might be buying land back cheaply from NAMA.

"I am concerned about some reports that those who have had assets acquired from them and put into NAMA have been making attempts to acquire them by a variety of methods and I intend to meet with the Minister for Finance who will be discussing these matters with NAMA in due course," he told reporters in Cork after giving a speech about the toxic debt agency.

The suggestion that NAMA was effectively breaking the law -- and faced a probe -- drew an unusually robust response from NAMA chairman Frank Daly yesterday.

Investigated

Mr Daly said NAMA had "absolutely no" evidence of anything like this happening and repeated a call for anyone with information to contact the agency so it could be investigated. "I noted the Taoiseach's comments in relation to this and I can assure the Taoiseach and everybody else that NAMA is determined that properties will not be sold back to defaulting debtors," Mr Daly said.

Mr Daly said similar claims had been made in the past and NAMA officials had met with those making the allegations.

Fianna Fail senator Mark Daly has been a vociferous critic of NAMA, claiming several times in the Dail that the agency was selling property in private deals to developers -- a charge that NAMA rejects.

Mr Daly said last night he was "shocked" by the Taoiseach's climbdown.

Frank Daly had earlier said there had been some suggestions made in the past about developers buying back land.

"We spoke to the individuals that were making the suggestions and they have not come up with anything that enabled us to say this had happened," Mr Daly said.

"We have a very strong piece of legislation in the NAMA Act to help us in that regard -- there is a prohibition, in fact, on properties being sold back to defaulting debtors.

"NAMA is determined to enforce that prohibition -- we have no indication that it has happened so far. We are absolutely determined that it won't happen in the future.

"NAMA has not sold properties itself to date, but properties have been sold on behalf of NAMA through receivers and one of the first things we do with receivers when we appoint them is to remind them of this provision in the legislation that properties may not be sold back to defaulting debtors or, indeed, to anyone connected with defaulting debtors. That is the legislation and it is very clear."

The NAMA boss said that rigorous checks and protections were in place.

"To implement it, for example, we require purchasers to make a sworn declaration to the receiver that there is no connection between them and the defaulting debtor -- it is also built into the contract of sale," he said.

Irish Independent

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