Monday 19 March 2018

The fees, the fixers, the politicians: Questions pile up on Nama's loan sale

Ian Coulter
Ian Coulter
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The controversy over Nama's sale of its Northern Ireland loan portfolio to Cerberus, a New York investment fund, shows no sign of abating.

Questions are piling up.

After 10 days of debate, an intense three-hour Public Accounts Committee hearing, disputed accounts, denials and much bar-room speculation, here are some of the questions that just won't go away.

Starting with the money:

l Why did Ian Coulter, managing partner of one of Ireland's biggest law firms, divert £7m in professional fees to an offshore account? Coulter, a partner in Tughans, worked for Cerberus on the sale of the loan book.

lIf £7m in Ian Coulter's Isle of Man bank account was, as alleged by Mick Wallace, "earmarked" for a Northern Ireland politician or political party, who was the politican or party? Mick Wallace - who first raised the allegation in the Dail - said he knows but won't be naming names. For now.

What exactly did Frank Cushnahan - a former member of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee - do for Pimco to deserve a fee of £5m if the sale had gone through?

l Pimco were the original lead bidders for the Northern loan portfolio. But why have Pimco and Nama given different accounts of why it withdrew its bid?

In a statement last week, Pimco said it withdrew from the Project Eagle tender process not because of any Nama decision, but because of the fees to "third parties". It disclosed the names and details to Nama and pulled out voluntarily. Nama never asked it to withdraw. Nama said its board decided Pimco could not stay in the race and at the PAC last week its chairman, Frank Daly, said Nama got Pimco to withdraw.

lDid Nama miss the "alarm bells" when the two law firms associated with the proposed £15m fee related to the Pimco bid later showed up acting for rival bidder, Cerberus, after Pimco pulled out?

The law firms, Tughans and Brown Rudnick, were to have split the £15m "three ways" with Cushnahan. Politicians last week said Nama should have realised "something strange was going on" and suspended the sale process.

Nama said it had no problem with the law firms, just with Cushnahan. lWere Northern Ireland politicians actively interfering in the sale?

Ministers on the Northern Ireland Executive wanted to attach legally binding conditions to the buyer of Nama's loan portfolio. They wanted the buyer to release the 55 debtors from their personal and corporate guarantees, and to also allow them manage their properties for a fee with an option to buy them back.

Who stood to benefit from this "debtors' charter" and in what circumstances was it dropped?

At the Public Accounts Committee last week, chairman John McGuinness asked who stood to gain from it.

l What exactly are gardai investigating in relation to Nama? The Garda fraud squad currently has 11 active criminal investigations underway into allegations relating to Nama. We know that two cases involve allegedly unlawful disclosures of confidential information.

lWas the taxpayer short-changed when Nama sold the loan book in one lot for £1.3bn - down from a peak value of £4.5bn?

The taxpayer lost €280m as a result of the deal. Nama said the taxpayer got the best value for the asset.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, which is investigating, will be trying to get to the bottom of that question.

Sunday Independent

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