Saturday 24 March 2018

Cushnahan was present at Nama talks on assets in North, records reveal

Frank Cushnahan
Frank Cushnahan

Shane Phelan and Simon Rowe

A NAMA advisory committee discussed potential purchasers of assets controlled by the agency on at least two occasions prior to the controversial €1.6bn sale of its Northern Ireland loan portfolio.

Documents reveal both meetings of the agency's Northern Ireland advisory Committee (NIAC) were attended by former banker Frank Cushnahan, who later acted as an advisor to one of the bidders for the portfolio, global investment firm Pimco.

The revelation comes just weeks after Nama chairman Frank Daly gave assurances to the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that Mr Cushnahan "did not gain any confidential information or any useful insider information" from being a member of the NIAC.

Mr Cushnahan has been at the centre of controversy ever since it emerged last month he would have been paid Stg£5m (€7m) if Pimco had been successful in acquiring the portfolio, which was known as Project Eagle.

After learning of his involvement, Nama requested Pimco withdraw from the competition.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show the topic of purchasers and potential purchasers of Nama assets was discussed by the NIAC at least twice in the 10 months running up to the sale of the portfolio.

These were at meetings in the Ballymascanlon House Hotel in Dundalk on July 15, 2013 and at Tughans solicitors in Belfast on October 7, 2013.

The full content of these conversations is unknown as Nama has redacted those sections of meeting minutes released to the Irish Independent.

However, a spokesman said: "As the Nama chairman stated to the PAC, no external member of the NIAC had access to confidential information relating to the sale of the Northern Ireland portfolio. This includes information on the identity of bidders."

A statement issued by Mr Cushnahan's solicitor last month said he firmly denied any wrongdoing and would fully co-operate with any police investigation. Mr Cushnahan was appointed as an external member of the NIAC by the then Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in 2010 on the recommendation of Stormont finance minister Sammy Wilson. He remained on the committee until November 2013, when he resigned for personal reasons.

Nama placed its entire northern loans portfolio, relating to 55 debtors and 900 properties, on sale in early 2014 and it was bought that April by US vulture fund Cerberus.

Issues surrounding the sale are being investigated by the UK's National Crime Agency, amid allegations of political kickbacks.

Parliamentary committees on both sides of the border have also launched inquiries.

The probes were initiated after Independent TD Mick Wallace alleged last month in the Dail that Stg£7m (€9.9) in an Isle of Man account had been earmarked for a northern politician or party in connection with the deal.

Cerberus has denied making or planning any inappropriate payments.

Irish Independent

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