Saturday 17 March 2018

Six people of interest in Project Eagle probe

Frank Cushnahan
Frank Cushnahan
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Six people are now under criminal investigation in relation to Nama's controversial Project Eagle sale.

Bribery, fraud and corruption are among possible offences being probed, the director general of Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA), Lynne Owens has said.

The NCA's investigation of the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book began in 2015. Two men were arrested earlier this year.

Ms Owens told the BBC that more than 40 witnesses have been interviewed and eight properties searched, adding: "Our inquiries continue."

Separately, in Dublin, Finance Minister Michael Noonan was quizzed on his knowledge of Project Eagle by TDs at the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

It is examining a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) that found Nama made a probable loss of £190m (€223m) in the sale. Nama rejected the findings.

Mr Noonan insisted that there was no pressure put on Nama by politicians, North or South, to accelerate the €1.6bn deal.

He said there was pressure from the European Central Bank for Nama to expedite sales, though not specifically in relation to Project Eagle.

He said the ECB wanted Nama to offload its portfolios to improve the position of Irish banks. Mr Noonan also said "it hasn't been proven" that Nama made a loss in the Project Eagle deal, seemingly at odds with the C&AG's report.

He said he had "an open mind" on whether a loss was made and told the PAC he was waiting for its decision on the matter.

Senior Finance Department official Anne Nolan raised further questions about the C&AG report, saying the department is "closer" to Nama's view on the 10-15pc discount rate used on the Project Eagle sale. The C&AG report questioned why the agency didn't use a 5.5pc rate.

Mr Noonan acknowledged that Nama and the C&AG have "differing opinions and positions" but he has "full confidence" in both.

One bidder for the Project Eagle portfolio, Pimco, withdrew from the sale after it learned that former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan (inset) was allegedly among those in line for a success fee if the sale went ahead.

Mr Noonan rejected suggestions he should have stopped the sale, saying there was "no legal basis" for him to do so.

He said the agency believed there was still "sufficient competitive tension" for the sale to go ahead. Mr Cushnahan was previously named under Dáil privilege as one the two men arrested by the NCA. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business