Monday 20 November 2017

Nama boss: 'We are not incompetent and sale of loans was not corrupt'

Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay arriving at the Dáil yesterday
Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay arriving at the Dáil yesterday
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Nama has rejected allegations that the sale of its Northern loan portfolio was "corrupt" - as it emerged that a second police investigation is ongoing into claims of crooked payments.

The agency's chief executive revealed that gardaí have launched an inquiry into allegations that a construction company paid bribes totalling €30,000 to an official in a bid to exit Nama.

Brendan McDonagh said he had met gardaí about the allegations, made in the Dáil by Independent TD Mick Wallace in July.

Mr Wallace claimed that two €15,000 bribes were paid "in a bag" to a Nama manager.

But Mr McDonagh told the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC): "The alleged company, which is supposed to have paid the money, is still in Nama, its debts are in Nama and it has had no debt write-off from Nama.

"Whether a payment was made is being investigated by the gardaí."

No official has been suspended as a result of the bribery allegations.

At the hearing, Nama chairman Frank Daly also revealed that he and Mr McDonagh had met with officers from the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA), which is probing allegations that corrupt payments were planned in connection with the sale of the bad bank's Project Eagle northern loan portfolio.

The NCA investigation was also sparked by claims in the Dáil by Mr Wallace, this time that more than Stg£7m found in an Isle of Man bank account was destined for a Northern Ireland politician or party.

The cash was linked by Mr Wallace to the deal which saw US vulture fund Cerberus buy the Project Eagle portfolio last year for €1.6bn. A political blogger, Jamie Bryson, alleged at a Stormont inquiry that the North's First Minister Peter Robinson was one of those who had been set to benefit, a claim that is strongly denied by Mr Robinson.

In robust exchanges with TDs yesterday, Mr Daly insisted that the deal was not corrupt and said he stood over the integrity of the sale process.

Independent TD Shane Ross, one of the most vociferous critics of the agency, said: "Your integrity is not in question, but on this deal you have done the taxpayer no service at all."

Mr Ross claimed that Nama "may have been incompetent and got a bad deal as a result of swimming with sharks".

Mr Daly responded: "We refute there has been any wrongdoing or incompetence by Nama."

He told the PAC that the NCA investigation was "not in any way concerned with the Nama side of the transaction". He said: "Their focus appears to be very much on the purchase side and what may or may not have taken place in Northern Ireland."

Mr Daly insisted that the sale of the portfolio - comprised of loans issued to Northern Ireland-based business people in relation to 900 properties - had been "conducted in line with best international practice".

The hearing was also attended by members of the Stormont inquiry committee.

Its chairman, Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay, said it was "regrettable" that Nama had refused to appear before it in Belfast. Nama officials have refused to travel to Stormont, saying they are only accountable to the Oireachtas.

Irish Independent

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