Nama must be held to account
Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30
The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy into disturbing events related to the activities of the National Asset Management Agency in Northern Ireland has raised serious questions which the State's so-called 'bad bank' must now address in full before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. Nama has robustly defended itself and has rejected many of the findings in the C&AG's report, which in itself has presented the vista of two State bodies in direct conflict in relation to these most serious events.
As such, when Nama comes before the PAC it must present a clear and coherent account of the actions it did take and sound justification for the actions it did not take in relation to the sale of the Project Eagle portfolio of properties in Northern Ireland. Nothing less will do.
Project Eagle is the name given to Nama's Northern Ireland property loans portfolio, which it sold in April 2014 to Cerberus, a US company, for about €1.6bn. Questions arose when it emerged that a managing partner of a firm of Belfast solicitors, which had worked for Cerberus, transferred £6m in fees from the deal to an Isle of Man bank account, without his firm's knowledge. He resigned when it was discovered.
Later, a former member of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee was recorded by the BBC's Spotlight programme claiming that the £6m was meant for him. He also suggested that he had used his influence with a former Nama executive to ensure the agency did not appoint receivers to some Northern Ireland companies whose debts it took over in 2010 and 2011. In a further investigation aired recently, Spotlight broadcast an audio recording of £40,000 being received from a Nama borrower. There have been claims in the Dail that the sale process was flawed and potentially corrupted and, indeed, that some of the proceeds of the sale were to be diverted to Northern business and political figures.
These events could not be more disturbing and it is right and proper that the Government has finally decided to instigate a full statutory inquiry on foot of the report by the C&AG. Ultimately, that report has found that the sale of the Project Eagle portfolio resulted in the loss of €220m for the taxpayer here. There are also questions for the Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, to answer. Specifically, when did he and his department become aware of concerns over the sale of Project Eagle, and if they were aware of certain allegations what did they do? These questions must also be fully addressed.
Nama has always carried out its functions behind a cloak of secrecy, which, considering the nature of its work can be expected, but is no longer acceptable. This newspaper has been consistently to the fore in trying to tear away that secrecy, at times clashing with the agency which has defended its activities on the basis that it was subject to the scrutiny of the Comptroller and the Auditor General Seamus McCarthy.
Now Nama has rejected much of that published scrutiny into a hugely disturbing series of events. But Nama cannot have it every way. A full and tested account of its version of these events is keenly awaited before final judgment is passed.