Business Irish

Saturday 16 December 2017

Nama 'introducers' promised millions in secret China memo

Memo for potential Chinese buyers of Northern Ireland assets proposed a 5pc fee for Nama's own advisor

Frank Cushnahan
Frank Cushnahan
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

An investment memorandum prepared by an English businessman for Chinese investors who were prepared to spend at least stg£1bn acquiring Nama's Northern Ireland assets proposed the payment of 'introducers' fees' of 5pc for both the businessman and Nama's then Northern Ireland advisor, Frank Cushnahan.

Had a stg£1bn deal with the investors whom the English businessman described as "severely wealthy" gone ahead, both he and Cushnahan stood to share fees of stg£100m between them - or stg£50m each.

The memorandum which was prepared in 2011 presented potential investors in Nama's Northern Ireland assets with what it described as "a return on investment unknown anywhere except in the most speculative markets. Backed by banks, developers and governments, this opportunity will only be open for a short period due to heavy interest from China and other emerging markets…"

Referring to the "Western financial crisis" which had necessitated the Irish government's establishment of Nama and the UK government's bail out of its troubled banks, the 2011 memorandum notes how both governments wished to "recover their expenditure as soon as possible".

"Governments have been forced into having to impose drastic economic cuts in order to compensate for their payments to banks and are looking at ways of converting these bad bank assets into cash," the document states.

Highlighting the role Nama's then Northern Ireland advisor Frank Cushnahan was asked to play in solving this problem, the document drawn up by the English businessman asserts that: "He [Cushnahan] was asked to investigate a method by which the problems facing both the governments and the developers could be satisfactorily resolved; and we have been involved in discussions at the highest level to come up with possible solutions which require involvement from financial institutions and individuals who are not borrowing money from EU-based banks".

The document adds that: "This venture is being supported at the highest governmental levels and any potential investors would be encouraged to visit Northern Ireland where they would meet the most senior political leaders, other senior government officers, as well as being invited to meet their counterparts in Dublin. They would be hosted by the developers whose portfolios are under consideration as well as the appropriate governments".

Asked about the investment memorandum, a spokesman for Cushnahan said he had no comment to make "on these or other selective communications relating to legitimate business discussions, which he was satisfied had been bona fide and lawful".

Today, Cushnahan remains at the centre of the ongoing controversy surrounding Nama's sale of its Northern Ireland loan book to US private equity giant Cerberus in April 2014 for €1.6bn. While all parties have consistently denied any wrongdoing in relation to the transaction, code-named 'Project Eagle', it is the subject of investigation by both the UK's National Crime Agency and the SEC in the United States of America. It is also being examined by the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Standards in Public Office Commission, and the Northern Ireland Assembly's finance committee.

Nama, for its part, has consistently moved to distance and disassociate itself from Cushnahan following a series of allegations in relation to his role in Project Eagle, including a request he made in conjunction with the Belfast law firm, Tughans and US lawyers, Brown Rudnick, for a stg£15m (€17.7m) fee from potential purchasers of the loan book.

Only last week, Nama's Head of Legal Aideen O'Reilly wrote to Independent TD Mick Wallace - the politician who has led the charge for the past two years in pursuing allegations of wrongdoing in relation to Project Eagle - requesting that he pass any "alleged information" he believed "may indicate wrongdoing" by Cushnahan to the "relevant authorities".

O'Reilly copied the letter she sent to Wallace to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, the Standards in Public Office Commission and the UK's National Crime Agency. All three agencies are currently conducting investigations into the Project Eagle transaction.

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