Sunday 27 May 2018

I didn't make a penny on €1.6bn Nama property deal

Exclusive: Cushnahan breaks his silence

Former Nama advisor Frank Cushnahan
Former Nama advisor Frank Cushnahan
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

The central figure in the Nama controversy has broken his silence to claim he did not "make a penny" from a series of property transactions being investigated on both sides of the Border - and by the FBI.

Former Nama advisor Frank Cushnahan, writing exclusively in today's Sunday Independent, also claims recordings of him allegedly receiving £40,000 cash from a Nama borrower "infringed his privacy".

It is the first time Mr Cushnahan has publicly responded to a series of allegations about his role in the sale of Nama's Northern loan book, known as Project Eagle.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has ordered an inquiry into the sale of that portfolio after an investigation by the Comptroller & Auditor General published last week found that Nama, the State's so-called bad bank, incurred a potential loss to the taxpayer of €223m from the sale.

Yesterday Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace called on Nama chairman Frank Daly and chief executive Brendan McDonagh to resign following the controversy.

"Their positions are not sustainable," he said, adding that any government or party that protects them "may well pay a heavy price".

The Sunday Independent has also learned that a decision on whether or not Finance Minister Michael Noonan will appear before the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to be quizzed on Project Eagle won't be made until tomorrow at the earliest.

Writing today, Mr Cushnahan claims that he has been treated like a "criminal" and that he is an innocent man.

The BBC Spotlight programme broadcast secret recordings of a meeting between Mr Cushnahan and a Co Down-based Nama borrower, John Miskelly, that allegedly took place in a Jaguar car in 2012.

"There's £40,000 in that and it's in bundles of two, Frank," Mr Miskelly is recorded as saying.

Mr Cushnahan was advising Nama at the time the recording was made and was reappointed to the advisory board the same year.

He claims this weekend that the controversy and media investigation has harmed his health and the health of his wife, Yvonne. She is receiving treatment for cancer.

"The consequential and ongoing needs to ensure that appropriate remedial and palliative care is provided for Yvonne at this difficult time adds significantly to the stressful situation for us both," he writes.

Project Eagle has been dogged by scandal for more than a year. US company Cerberus bought the portfolio in April 2014 for about €1.6bn.

It later emerged that the managing partner of a firm of Belfast solicitors which had worked for Cerberus transferred £6m in fees from the deal to an Isle of Man bank account, without his firm's knowledge. He resigned once it was discovered.

Later, Mr Cushnahan, a former member of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee originally appointed by former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, was recorded claiming that the £6m was meant for him.

Today, Mr Cushnahan does not directly address that recorded claim but reiterates that he did not benefit financially from the Project Eagle sale in any way.

Writing in the Sunday Independent, Mr Cushnahan rejected all claims of wrong-doing: "I have been treated like a criminal by sections of the media, although few criminals would have been subject to the same onslaught I have had to endure over the past year."

Mr Cushnahan fails to address the recordings which appear to show him accepting £40,000 (€48,000) cash in a brown paper bag in a hospital car park in 2012 from Mr Miskelly.

He now says he is talking to lawyers about taking legal action against the BBC.

He claims that the meeting occurred when he was asked to assist Mr Miskelly "at a time when I was informed that Mr Miskelly was terminally ill".

In the recording, the men are then heard discussing the payment and Mr Miskelly assures Mr Cushnahan no one else knows about the meeting. The programme claims Mr Cushnahan said he would use his "insider status" to help ease Mr Miskelly's financial problems.

Mr Cushnahan admits that it was his "understanding" that, had the initial sale gone through and Pimco purchased the Project Eagle loan book, there was "a possibility he would have been appointed by [US company] Pimco to an executive role with appropriate remuneration".

Describing the impact of the controversy and the BBC Spotlight investigation, he said: "Words cannot describe the devastating impact this controversy has had on my own and my wife's life and health."

He also stressed that he was not a "public servant in the Republic of Ireland" and, as an adviser to Nama, he was paid the sum of €5,000 per year 'as an honorarium'.

"I had no role whatsoever in any [Nama] executive committee decisions concerning individual debtors. I had no access to confidential information through my Nama position relating to any debtor."

Welcoming "any proper inquiry in relation to the sale of the NI loan book", he claimed the sale of Project Eagle was essential for the Northern Ireland economy. "I have no doubt the sale achieved by Nama was the best price properly achievable and has allowed the Northern Ireland economy to regain some momentum following its virtual destruction with the collapse of the property market in 2008."

In a damning report, C&AG Seamus McCarthy raised questions over how the portfolio, at the time the biggest property sale in Irish history, was valued and marketed. He also criticised Nama's failure to take more action when it learned Mr Cushnahan allegedly stood to be paid €5m by one of the bidders.

Writing today, Mr Cushnahan rejects the claims that in the event of the purchase by Pimco he was to receive €5m. "I was never a party to any such agreement," he says.

Sunday Independent

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