Wednesday 21 March 2018

NAMA made an 'eejit' out of deal-brokers in Northern Ireland property loans sale

The National Asset Management Agency Treasury building in Dublin
The National Asset Management Agency Treasury building in Dublin

Brian Hutton

Nama made an "eejit" out of internationally renowned deal-brokers involved in the controversial £1.2 billion (€1.4bn) sale of its Northern Ireland property loans, a parliamentary committee has been told.

Patrick Long, a managing director at financial advisers Lazard, led an outside team asked by the Republic's toxic assets agency to manage the sale of its so-called Project Eagle portfolio, bought by US investors Cerberus in April 2014.

Before a parliamentary committee in Dublin probing the controversial transaction, Mr Long said Nama did not tell him another US company Pimco, a leading bidder, pulled out weeks earlier because it was asked for a fixer payment of £16 million (€18.6m) for three parties behind the scenes.

The money was to be shared equally by Belfast businessman Frank Cushnahan, US law firm Brown Rudnick and Ian Coulter, a managing partner of Belfast solicitors Tughans, Pimco previously told the committee.

Frank Cushnahan was on a Nama advisory committee
Frank Cushnahan was on a Nama advisory committee

Mr Cushnahan was formerly a Nama adviser on Northern Ireland, on the recommendation of the Democratic Unionists.

All parties have denied any wrongdoing.

Cross-examining Mr Long, Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said Lazard seems to have "spectacularly lacked insights" in the entire affair and "therefore your judgments were compromised."

"They kept you in the dark," she told Mr Long.

"Do you know the expression eejit? A patsy? They made an eejit of you."

Mr Long responded: "I don't think it is my place to be angry with Nama or second guess why they didn't inform us about the circumstances of Pimco's withdrawal."

But he added if Lazard had been fully informed then its advice would have been different.

"It is our client's prerogative what they tell us and don't tell us," he told the hearing.

"It is up to Nama, and I have acknowledged our advice would have been different if we were aware of those precise circumstances.

"We gave the best advice we could with the knowledge we had at the time."

Nama paid Lazard £4.32 million for getting the sale over the line, in a no deal, no pay basis.

Mr Long agreed it was unusual there was no open tender for the job from a State agency.

"There were quite a lot of unusual features," he said, pointing out there was only one round of bidding, there were few bidders involved for what was the largest property deal in Northern Ireland's history and it was over a relatively short time frame.

Mr Long also told the Public Accounts Committee in Dublin that one of the first things Nama told Lazard was for the need to keep the sale "confidential".

"They viewed this transaction as politically sensitive," he said.

He told the committee he was surprised to learn Brown Rudnick, Tughans and Mr Cushnahan were working together as far back as April 2013.

Asked was he concerned about that, he replied : "Sure, given Mr Cushnahan's role in the Niac (Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee), sure."

Mr Long said he was further concerned about Mr Cushnahan's relationship with debtors whose property loans were in the portfolio being sold.

Brown Rudnick and Tughans also advised Cerberus on the successful deal.

Mr Long said the process was competitive and that he had seen no evidence the property portfolio could have been sold for a higher price at the time.

The Republic's spending watchdog has said Nama lost taxpayers up to £190 million on the Project Eagle sale.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) said the agency undervalued loans associated with the 800 properties in the portfolio.

Press Association

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