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'Nama tried to hinder our bid in Prague sale'




Tom Burke


One of Europe's foremost investment funds has complained to Nama chairman Frank Daly, alleging that it was "intentionally hindered" in its bid to buy a property in Prague.

Penta Investments - a company with some €6.7bn of assets under management across Europe - wrote directly to Mr Daly last Wednesday, seeking an explanation in relation to Nama's handling of the sale.

In the letter - a copy of which has been seen by the Sunday Independent - Penta's managing director, Petr Palicka, sought an "official response" from Nama on its reasons for asking his company to postpone its submission of a bid for the property in Prague's Radlice area.

Having agreed to do that, Mr Palicka claims his company waited two months before further "relevant" information came from Nama in relation to the proposed sale.

Notwithstanding the "genuine interest" he says his company had shown in the property after being invited by Nama to bid for it, Mr Palicka said Nama informed Penta that the asset was now being sold in a larger portfolio sale, namely Project Arrow, rather than separately.

While Mr Palicka says the Czech real estate giant expressed its interest in participating in the Project Arrow'loan sale, he claims the next communication from Nama on the matter came in the form of a brief statement, saying the process was in its final stage with three finalists already selected.

Since Nama issued that statement, one of those three finalists - a partnership between Goldman Sachs and Carval - has withdrawn from the bidding, leaving Apollo Global Management and Cerberus to compete for the portfolio, which consists of 1,532 loans attached to 367 borrowers.

With a nominal value of €7.2bn, Project Arrow is expected by real estate sources to sell for as little as €900m.

Should Cerberus win out against Apollo in the competition for the Project Arrow loan book, it has the potential to cause controversy, given that the circumstances surrounding its acquisition of Nama's Northern Ireland portfolio - Project Eagle - is currently the subject of inquiries by politicians in the North, the UK's National Crime Agency and the SEC and FBI in the United States.

The investigations were prompted by a claim made under Dail privilege by Independent TD Mick Wallace that in the course of the Project Eagle sale, a £7m fee to be paid to a law firm had been deposited in an offshore bank account and "earmarked" for a Northern Ireland politician or political party.

Cerberus has denied any impropriety on its part and has stated that it believed the Northern Ireland transaction was conducted with "full integrity".

Nama said it had not been accused of, or involved in, any wrongdoing in respect of the deal.

"The ongoing inquiries in Northern Ireland relate to the alleged conduct of third parties on the buyer side of the Project Eagle transaction, and not to Nama," it said. In its complaint to Nama chairman Frank Daly meanwhile, Penta Investments accuses the agency of a "flagrant lack of transparency" and a "failure to provide Penta as a reputable investor" with "any cooperation or information enabling it to present an offer" for Project Arrow.

Mr Palicka wrote that it was "difficult to avoid [the] suspicion that Penta has been intentionally hindered in participation in the sale" of both the Prague property, in which it had an initial interest, and the wider Project Arrow portfolio. Penta Investments is not the first Prague-based firm to make claims of being excluded from the sales process for a property under Nama's control. Another company, Flow East, has already initiated two lawsuits in the Czech capital over the sale of the Savarin Palace, a retail scheme developed by Sean Mulryan's Ballymore Group.

Flow East claims it was prevented from bidding for the project.

Ballymore chief Sean Mulryan sought to address the controversy in a statement released at the time of his appearance before the Banking Inquiry.

He said Ballymore, not Nama, was the seller of the asset, and insisted Flow East had provided no confirmation of proof of funding, which was a "core requirement".

Mr Mulryan said the company had been excluded from the bidding for this reason. Referring to Flow East's initiation of legal proceedings, he said: "We are confident the Czech courts will find in our favour and expose the claim for what it is - a disgruntled underbidder ... trying to inflict damage on Ballymore and Nama."

At the time of going to press Nama had not responded to our calls for a comment.

Sunday Independent