Wednesday 21 March 2018

Q & A: The Nama deal explained

Nama chairman Frank Daly
Nama chairman Frank Daly

What was Project Eagle?

It was the largest single disposal of loan assets undertaken by Nama since its establishment and related to 55 debtors from Northern Ireland. The loans were secured on around 900 properties. At one point, the loans were worth €5.7bn.

Where were the properties located?

Around 68pc of them were located in Northern Ireland, 18pc in the rest of Ireland, 12pc in Great Britain, and 2pc elsewhere.

Why did Nama want to sell the loans and why were they sold in a job lot?

Nama's chairman Frank Daly accepted that the Northern Ireland property market was in the doldrums and that there was a lack of liquidity.

However, he said the decision to sell was influenced by the agency's need to focus on assets in the Republic of Ireland and in London. Mr Daly said there were very few of the assets which would have interested purchasers if they had been sold individually.

Could Nama have got a better price if it had waited longer before selling the loans?

Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh doesn't believe so.

The "carrying value" of the loans when Nama bought them at a discount was €2.1bn. Nama sold them to global investment company Cerberus for €1.6bn and made €1.4bn from the sale when costs were taken into account.

Mr McDonagh said this week he did not believe it would have got a better price had the portfolio been sold this year.

So why all the controversy about the deal now?

Things kicked off when Independent TD Mick Wallace said in the Dáil last week that Stg£7m had been found in an Isle of Man account, with the money being reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or party.

Various politicians have since denied that they were the person being referred to, but Belfast law firm Tughans, who acted for Cerberus in the deal, confirmed that the money was a fee it was due which had been diverted to the account by its former managing partner Ian Coulter.

It said the money had been retrieved.

Mr Coulter left the firm in January and is the subject of a Law Society of Northern Ireland investigation.

The movement of the cash is also being investigated by the UK's top law enforcement body, the National Crime Agency. It is not known who made the Stg£7m payment.

But that is not the only payment that has raised questions, is it?

No. The Dáil's Public Accounts Committee heard how another company, Pimco, was asked by Nama to leave the sale process after it proposed making a Stg£5m payment to a former Nama advisor, Frank Cushnahan, if it was to end up being the successful bidder. Mr Cushnahan had sat on Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee until November 2013.

The sum was part of Stg£15m Pimco planned to pay to advisors.

US law firm Brown Rudnick and Tughans had also stood to make Stg£5m each. The payment to Tughans was to be made via Mr Coulter.

What has the political fallout been?

The North's First Minister Peter Robinson had meetings with both Pimco and Cerberus.

One of these meetings was with former US vice president Dan Quayle, who now works for Cerberus, days before its bid for the portfolio was accepted.

Ian Coulter was also present at the meeting, as was the North's Finance Minister Simon Hamilton. The meeting was not disclosed at the time and both Mr Robinson and Mr Hamilton have faced criticism because of this.

Mr Robinson's spokesman said there was nothing untoward about meeting companies who were interested in investing in Northern Ireland.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was not made aware of the meeting and had not approved it.

Cerberus has said it was "standard operating practice to hold due diligence meetings of this nature with government ministers".

Nama is also facing criticism, isn't it?

Yes. Some TDs on the Public Accounts Committee have questioned the agency's judgment.

They believe Nama should have abandoned the sales process after learning of the proposed payment to Mr Cushnahan.

Nama said it had ensured Cerberus gave an undertaking no third-party fees were being paid in connection with its acquisition of the loans. It says the sales process was robust, competitive and secured the best outcome for the taxpayer.

Irish Independent

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