Tuesday 24 October 2017

McGuinness present for conference call on Nama North deal

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness Deputy First Minister. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness Deputy First Minister. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Peter Robinson
Emma Pengelly

Shane Phelan and Philip Ryan

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was present during a conference call when the controversial sale of Nama's Project Eagle Northern Ireland loan book was discussed.

Mr McGuinness and Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson were joined by Finance Minister Michael Noonan during the call in January of last year.

Crucially, 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 Nama advisor, Frank Cushnahan, stood to earn Stg£5m in fees should the company win the bid.

Nama expressed concerns about this and Pimco subsequently stepped out of the bidding process, leaving two other bidders - Cerberus, which ultimately bought the €1.6bn portfolio, and Fortress.

Mr McGuinness told the Northern Assembly's Committee on Finance and Personnel last week that he had never been consulted about the Pimco letter of intent.

The letter summarised an agreement between Pimco and the Northern Ireland Executive, which included guarantees that would see Nama debtors in Northern Ireland receive favourable treatment.

Mr McGuinness said the letter had come from the DUP side of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minster and did not have his consent.

However, notes taken by the Department of Finance suggest that, in fact, Mr McGuinness was made aware of the letter.

The notes said Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness requested a call with Mr Noonan to discuss the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book after a meeting in September 2013.

The conference call was held on January 14 last year.

Mr Robinson is recorded as saying: "They (the Northern Ireland Executive) did not align themselves with any particular buyer."

The note adds: "However, he (Mr Robinson) reiterated the comfort provided by the commitments Pimco had made to the Northern Ireland executive through a letter of intent regarding their management of assets if they were a successful acquirer."

Mr Robinson said he would welcome similar commitments from any buyer and he agreed to furnish Nama with the letter of intent.

A Sinn Féin spokesman last night said: "The conference call with Minister Noonan is a matter of public record and was highlighted by Martin McGuinness at the Assembly committee meeting last week.

"Martin McGuiness was not involved in the drafting, nor did he consent to the correspondence referred to in the call with Minister Noonan. He was kept in the dark on the nature and extent of meetings and correspondence on this matter."

Meanwhile, a former special adviser to Mr Robinson is to be nominated to the parliamentary inquiry investigating claims that the North's First Minister was in line to benefit from a corrupt payment.

The expected appointment comes ahead of Mr Robinson's much-anticipated appearance before the Stormont committee probing the sale of Nama's northern loan portfolio.

His former aide, Emma Pengelly, is to be formally nominated to the Northern Assembly's Committee on Finance and Personnel on Monday.

Her nomination to the cross-party committee was confirmed yesterday.

Irish Independent

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