Monday 26 February 2018

US firm using pics of ministers to bolster Nama play

Company claims it has €1bn for property assets

john reynolds

A US small-cap property investment firm with a market capitalisation of just €2.4m that claims to have €1bn for purchasing properties from Nama is promoting links to two Government ministers on its website.

Energy and Natural Resources Minister Pat Rabbitte and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton are pictured, in photos dated March 24, with John Hartnett, a former Irish representative of the company.

Author and economist David McWilliams is also featured in photos on the website of Las Vegas-based company, 1st Global Financial Corporation.

The company, which has no cash in the bank according to its most recent accounts, owes Mr McWilliams a fee for a talk he gave for the firm in New York earlier this year.

"My lawyers are pursuing the company for my unpaid fee and have asked them to take down photos of me on their website," he told the Sunday Independent.

Mr Hartnett, who is described as a member of Fianna Fail and a former employee of AIB on the website, resigned from the company last month.

He had made inquiries to, but did not have formal meetings with the ministers and other TDs in order to find out the correct procedure for purchasing assets from Nama, it is understood.

A number of Irish investors are believed to have bought shares in 1st Global, a pink-sheets stock. Companies whose shares trade in this way do not have to regularly file audited accounts and very little research on them is available.

On March 30 last year, the firm's shares were worth less than a cent. On October 19, ahead of a merger announcement three days later, the shares soared to €0.34 and then to €0.41 on November 4. They are now worth just €0.06.

UK-based company president John Bannister, who confirmed he was disqualified as a company director in the Isle of Man in 2008, said: "1st Global Financial Corporation is known to Nama and we have made offers to purchase properties and are now following the required procedures."

The company is believed to be interested in purchasing commercial properties in London from Nama, as well as Irish hotels, houses and retail properties and land for solar energy installations.

In recent announcements the firm claims to have properties in development in Portugal and Cape Verde, to have bought a 100-acre site in California, and to have paid €251,000 for two sites overlooking the Humber Valley golf course in Newfoundland in Canada.

A spokeswoman for Ms Burton said: "The minister had her photo taken with Mr Hartnett, as she is often asked to do by members of the public, but had no formal meeting with him."

Mr Rabbitte said he did not know Mr Hartnett and has photos taken with citizens every week. A spokesman for Nama said: "We cannot comment on speculation about whether any individual or company has purchased assets from Nama."

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