Monday 23 October 2017

Department of Finance accused of 'interfering' in PAC's Nama inquiry

PAC Chairman John McGuinness
PAC Chairman John McGuinness

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

The head of the Dail’s spending watchdog has criticised the Department of Finance for the late night release of documents related to the sale of Nama’s northern loan portfolio.

Over 40 documents relating to the deal, which saw over 900 loans sold to US vulture fund Cerberus for €1.6bn last year, were put on the department’s website last night.

Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness said the release of the records in that manner had given his committee little time to digest the material ahead of its meeting with Nama today.

He said that the committee had been given no advance notification of the release of the documents.

“The release of documentation like this before the meeting today is nothing short of interfering with the work of the committee,” said Mr McGuinness.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald was also critical of the late night release of the documents.

“This looks and feels like a manoeuvre by the minister in advance of the meeting,” she said.

The records showed the North’s Deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, was present during a conference call where the controversial sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan was discussed.

Mr McGuinness had previously claimed he was kept “in the dark about the deal” by Mr Robinson.

One record shows Mr McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson were joined by Finance Minister Michael Noonan during the call in January last year.

The minutes of the telephone conversation show a letter of intent provided by investment company Pimco was discussed during the call.

Pimco was in the running for the loan book until the firm's compliance staff informed Nama that a former adviser from the agency, Frank Cushnahan, stood to earn €5m in fees should the company win the bid.

Mr McGuinness has said he was not aware of the Pimco letter Nama received in January 2014.

This morning the PAC received a letter from Mr McGuinness saying that in light of the release of the documents, he wished to appear before the committee.

A delegations from the Northern Assembly’s Committee on Finance and Personnel, which is also probing the Nama deal, is attending the PAC meeting today.

Its chairman, Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay, said it was “regrettable” Nama would not agree to give evidence at the Stormont inquiry.

Nama has said it is only accountable to the Oireachtas and committees at Leinster House.

Mr McKay said that while that may well be the case, and Nama had answered questions in written format, he believed “greater cooperation from Nama is needed if we are to fully understand the relationship between Nama and the (Northern Ireland) Department of Finance and Personnel”.

He added: “All we want is the truth. All the public wants, north and south, is the truth.”

Mr McKay said, contrary to claims by Nama, it was clear that “commercial and confidential matters were discussed in some detail” at meeting of the Nama’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee.

Nama chairman Frank Daly has previously claimed he did not believe Mr Cushnahan, a former member of that committee, would have obtained confidential information about the sale of the portfolio.

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