Sunday 25 September 2016

NAMA’s €1.6bn Northern Ireland property sale is to be officially probed – the Government has announced

NAMA rejects spending watchdog allegations that “hundreds of millions” were lost.

Shane Phelan, John Downing

Published 14/09/2016 | 15:02

The Treasury Building on Grand Canal Street Lower where NAMA is based. Photo: Tom Burke
The Treasury Building on Grand Canal Street Lower where NAMA is based. Photo: Tom Burke

THERE is to be an official inquiry into the nation’s debt management agency, NAMA, over its handling of the €1.6bn sale of its property portfolio in Northern Ireland.

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The Government announcement follows months of pressure by opposition politicians for a full-blown inquiry which was strongly resisted by Finance Minister Michael Noonan right up until last week.

The type of inquiry which will take place has yet to decided.

The announcement came after ministers considered the findings of a report by the Comptroller & Auditor General, which alleges that hundreds of millions of euro more could have been got out of the sale in 2014 to the US vulture fund Cerberus. The deal is referred to as Project Eagle.

The precise mechanism of inquiry is to be discussed with Opposition parties.

Both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have called for a commission of investigation, while Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he wants the Dáil Public Accounts Committee to examine matters first.

Today’s discussions came after several months of revelations about the deal to sell the agency’s Northern Ireland portfolio.

The package of 850 loans was sold to US investment fund Cerberus in April 2014 for around €1.6bn.

Nama says it made a loss of €280m on the deal. NAMA bosses are expected to appear before the Dáil committee later this month.

The sale has been mired in controversy for the past year amid claims secret payments linked to the deal were to be made benefiting politicians, businessmen and lawyers.

In a statement, the Government said the C&AG’s report raised “a number of important issues which the Government acknowledges will require further investigation”.

It said the PAC was an appropriate forum for consideration of the C&AG report.

However, the statement added that there was also a need for further investigation, due to public concern over the deal.

“The Government also recognises that it has its own responsibilities to ensure that all matters of public concern with regard to the functions of an important public body such as Nama are fully addressed,” it said.

“It has therefore decided that the Taoiseach will invite Opposition party leaders to meet him tomorrow with a view to seeking agreement on the issues of public concern that require further investigation and the most appropriate nature and terms of reference for such an investigation.

“Subject to the outcome of those discussions, the matter will then be the subject of a Dáil debate early in the new session.

“The Government’s objective is to ensure that all matters of public concern are addressed in a speedy and effective manner.”

The deal is already the subject of investigations in Belfast, London and Washington. But Mr Noonan has always insisted that any suggestions of wrong-doing did not relate to NAMA which sold the properties in good faith.

Mr Noonan has also said that NAMA will contest claims that it could have made “hundreds of millions more” on the sale. He also said that the spending watchdog’s report does not allege any impropriety by NAMA in the sale – but an assertion that a different way of doing the sale would have netted far more for taxpayers.

Ministers today debated the 130-page report by the C&AG which is to be published later.

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