Sunday 4 December 2016

Revealed: McGuinness and Noonan present for call when controversial 'Project Eagle' deal discussed

Philip Ryan and Shane Phelan

Published 30/09/2015 | 21:37

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness Deputy First Minister. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness Deputy First Minister. Pic Frank Mc Grath

SINN Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was present during a conference call where the controversial sale of Nama’s Project Eagle Northern Ireland loan book was discussed, Independent.ie can reveal.

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Mr McGuinness and Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson were joined by Finance Minister Michael Noonan during the call in January last year.

Crucially, minutes of the telephone conversation show a letter of intent provided by investment company Pimco was discussed during the call.

Pimco was in the running for the loan book until the firm’s compliance staff informed Nama that a former Nama advisor, Frank Cushnahan, stood to earn Stg£5m in fees should the company win the bid.

Nama expressed concerns about this and Pimco subsequently stepped out of the bidding process leaving two other bidders – Cerberus, which ultimately bought the €1.6bn portfolio, and Fortress.

Mr McGuinness told the Northern Assembly's Committee on Finance and Personnel last week he was never consulted about the Pimco letter of intent.

The letter summarised an agreement between Pimco and the Northern Ireland Executive which included guarantees that would see Nama debtors in Northern Ireland receive favourable treatment.

Mr McGuinness said the letter had come from the DUP side of Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minster, and did not have his consent.

However, notes taken by the Department of Finance suggest Mr McGuinness was made aware of the letter.

The notes said Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness requested a call with Finance Minister Michael Noonan to discuss the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland loan book after a meeting held in September 2013.

The conference call was held on January 14 last year.

Mr Robinson is recorded as saying “they (the Northern Ireland Executive) did not align themselves with any particular buyer”.

The note adds: “However, he (Mr Robinson) reiterated the comfort provided by the commitments Pimco had made to the Northern Ireland executive through a letter of intent regarding their management of assets if they were a successful acquirer.”

Mr Robinson said he would welcome similar commitments from any buyer and he agreed to furnish Nama with the letter of intent.

The documents were released on the Department of Finance's website ahead of a Public Accounts Committee hearing tomorrow 

A Sinn Féin spokesman said: "The conference call with Minister Noonan is a matter of public record and was highlighted by Martin McGuinness at the Assembly Committee meeting last week.

Martin McGuiness was not  involved in the drafting, nor did he consent to the correspondence referred to in the call with Minister Noonan. He was kept in the dark of the nature and extent of meeting and correspondence on this matter."

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