Monday 20 November 2017

Nama executive emailed a confidential offer from investor to rivals in hotel war

Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

A CONFIDENTIAL offer letter to Nama from a major international investor which sought to buy out the agency's share of the multimillion-euro loans behind the world famous Claridge's, Berkeley and Connaught hotels in London was emailed by a senior Nama official to a competing bidder at the height of the bidding war, the Sunday Independent has learned.

In what would appear to be an unusual move, the offer by the Malaysian-based Wynton Group to Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh was forwarded by email by portfolio manager Paul Hennigan to Richard Faber, a key representative of the billionaire Barclay brothers.

The brothers, Sir Frederick and Sir David, remain locked to this day in a tense battle with the Belfast-born property investor Paddy McKillen for ultimate control of the exclusive London hotels.

Copies of the email and the Wynton Group's offer letter -- sent by Mr Hennigan to Mr Faber on March 8 last year -- were unearthed in the course of the discovery process for Mr McKillen's recent High Court action against the Barclay brothers, in which he sought to have their acquisition of Nama's €800m share of the hotels debt reversed.

Mr McKillen suffered defeat in that action but is currently gearing up to appeal the decision of Mr Justice David Richards in London's Supreme Court.

In his email to Mr Faber, which he marked "URGENT", Mr Hennigan wrote: "Richard, Offer to buy senior debt. I will have the assignment document with you shortly.

"Need to talk to you about options later, are you free after 2.30pm?"

Mr Hennigan attached a copy of the Wynton Group's offer letter for Mr Faber's attention.

Contacted by the Sunday Independent, a spokesman for Mr Faber and the Barclays said: "We were asked to bid for the debt by Nama, as we were interested in the company. We assume Nama wanted to maximise the return to the taxpayer, but we couldn't meet the asking price and didn't bid."

There is absolutely no suggestion that Mr Faber sought a copy of the offer letter from Mr Hennigan. It should also be said that the Wynton Group had been in discussions with all the hotels' shareholders since December 2010 in relation to its proposed acquisition.

Asked by the Sunday Independent if Mr Hennigan had received authorisation from Nama to forward a copy of the Wynton offer to the Barclays' representative, a spokesman for Nama said last night: "We don't comment on what communications may/may not have taken place in respect of transactions."

Besides being addressed for the personal attention of Nama CEO Brendan McDonagh, the letter was copied by Wynton to the then finance minister Brian Lenihan; the Irish ambassador to Malaysia, Declan Kelly; Nama's head of asset management, John Mulcahy; as well as the special advisor to Malaysia's prime minister and finance minister.

While the Wynton Group stated that it would in certain circumstances allow the details of its offer to be shared beyond those recipients, subject to its being given "reasonable prior notice", it remains unclear whether it received such a communication from Nama.

On the matter of the letter's confidentiality, the Wynton Group stated: "The existence of this letter and the provisions set out in it shall be, unless otherwise agreed by us and except to the extent required by any government authority (provided reasonable prior written notice is given to us where practicable), kept confidential and you shall use commercially reasonable efforts to cause to be kept confidential by your representatives, consultants, advisers, officers, and officials, all information disclosed to any such persons in connection with this letter."

Contacted by this newspaper and asked if they had given permission or been made aware that their offer letter had been sent to the Barclays' representative, Mr Faber, a spokeswoman for the Wynton Group said: "Thank you very much for this. We appreciate your frankness; however, kindly note that we have no comment."

Sunday Independent

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