Thursday 29 September 2016

Timeline: Project Eagle and how claims Nama got the best price it could unravelled

Published 15/09/2016 | 02:30

The Treasury Building on Grand Canal Street
The Treasury Building on Grand Canal Street

2010 and 2011: Northern Irish property loans worth around €6bn are transferred into Nama.

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May 2010: Finance Minister Brian Lenihan appoints Frank Cushnahan, a former banker, to Nama's Northern Ireland Advisory Committee, on the recommendation of his Northern counterpart Sammy Wilson.

Early to mid 2013: Amid concerns developers face a raw deal from Nama, Belfast accountant David Watters draws up a proposal for the northern loans to be sold to a single buyer. The idea is that a buyer could support the borrowers, helping their businesses to recover.

Mr Cushnahan and Ian Coulter, the managing partner of Belfast law firm Tughans, become involved in the scheme.

Mr Coulter contacts US law firm Brown Rudnick to see if it has interested clients.

May 2013: Representatives of investment firm Pimco meet First Minister Peter Robinson. Mr Cushnahan and Mr Coulter are also present.

June 2013: Mr Wilson writes to Finance Minister Michael Noonan, saying investors are interested in the portfolio. Mr Noonan tells him companies should contact Nama.

September 2013: Brown Rudnick informs Nama of Pimco's interest.

November 2013: Frank Cushnahan steps down from the advisory committee, citing personal reasons.

January 2014: Nama receives a letter from Mr Robinson's office outlining a proposed memorandum of understanding with Pimco, should it buy the portfolio. This includes favourable terms for debtors.

Nama says it ignored the document.

The same month Nama appoints UK financial advisory firm Lazards to auction the portfolio, by now known as Project Eagle. It contains loans linked to 850 properties.

Lazard contacts nine potential candidates.

February 2014: Three potential bidders are in the race - Cerberus, Fortress and Pimco.

March 2014: Pimco informs Nama it has discussed paying a fee of Stg£15m to be split between Mr Cushnahan, Tughans and Brown Rudnick.

Both Nama and Pimco have reservations about Mr Cushnahan's involvement and Pimco pulls out.

Mr Robinson and Mr Coulter subsequently meet Cerberus chairman and former US Vice President Dan Quayle.

April 2014: Cerberus has a Stg£1.241bn bid, around €1.6bn at the time, accepted. It is just over Nama's reserve price. Underbidder Fortress had offered just under Stg£1.1bn.

In a statement, Nama chairman Frank Daly and chief executive Brendan McDonagh say: "It is Nama's biggest single transaction to date and we are satisfied that the sales process will deliver the best possible result for the Irish taxpayer."

January 2015: Mr Coulter unexpectedly leaves his role at Tughans.

July 2015: Independent TD Mick Wallace alleges in the Dáil that an audit in Tughans uncovered Stg£7m in an Isle of Man account, money linked to the Project Eagle deal. He says this was reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or party.

The PSNI initiates an investigation and it is quickly taken over by the UK's National Crime Agency.

Tughans says the cash was transferred by Mr Coulter and it emerges the matter has been the subject of a Law Society of Northern Ireland investigation for several months.

July 2015: Mr Daly tells the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about the proposed fee arrangement involving Pimco and Mr Cushnahan. It also emerges Mr Noonan was informed, but did not intervene to stop the sales process.

Mr Daly defends Nama's integrity and insists the agency got value for money.

He says no external member of its advisory board, including Mr Cushnahan, had access to confidential information relating to the sale.

Mr Daly says Nama sought and received assurances from Cerberus that Mr Cushnahan was not involved in the bid and would not be a beneficiary.

September 2015: Belfast businessman Gareth Graham files a complaint about the deal with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Political blogger Jamie Bryson claims at a Stormont committee that Mr Robinson, Mr Coulter, Mr Cushnahan, Mr Waters and developer Andrew Creighton were to receive payments following the deal.

The allegations are denied.

October 2015: Mr Daly tells the PAC: "I do not agree that the bidding process had been corrupt."

He adds: "I absolutely stand over the integrity of the process and stand over the fact that the taxpayer got value for money." Mr Noonan rejects calls for a government-appointed inquiry.

February 2016: The BBC broadcasts a secret recording of Mr Cushnahan saying he was due to receive Stg£6m from the deal.

March 2016: A Stormont inquiry criticises Mr Noonan for not stepping in and halting the sales process when evidence emerged it may have been compromised. Mr Noonan's office says it is satisfied Nama fulfilled its mandate of achieving the best return for the Irish taxpayer.

June 2016: The NCA arrests Mr Cushnahan and former Nama head of asset management Ronnie Hanna. Both are released without charge.

September 2016: The BBC broadcasts a recording of Mr Cushnahan receiving Stg£40,000 from a Nama debtor in 2012. In the recording he pledged to come up with a scheme to extract developer John Miskelly's loans from Nama, suggesting he would get the assistance of Nama's then head of asset management Ronnie Hanna. Mr Hanna denies any wrongdoing.

Yesterday: A Comptroller & Auditor General report finds Nama probably lost Stg£190m from the sale.

It also criticised Nama for not taking more action when it learned of the proposed fee to Mr Cushnahan. The C&AG said Nama did not even contact Mr Cushnahan at the time for an explanation. Nama disputes the findings. The Government announces there will be an inquiry into the sale, although how it will be conducted has yet to be decided.

Irish Independent

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