Monday 18 December 2017

Taoiseach says Department of Finance 'willing' to open books for €1.5bn NAMA property deal probe

Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Photo: Damien Eagers
Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Photo: Damien Eagers

Ed Carty

Ireland's finance chiefs are willing to open their books to the UK fraud squad over allegations of multi-million pound fixer fees for a record property deal in Northern Ireland.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave the commitment amid renewed demands for a judge-led inquiry into the £1.2 billion sale of a massive loan portfolio by the Republic's bad-bank in 2014.

The deal by the National Assets Management Agency (Nama) with US investment giant Cerberus has been dogged by controversy after £7 million linked to it was found in an Isle of Man bank.

The UK's lead police body, the National Crime Agency, is probing allegations that the money was for fixers in the background of the supposed secret auction of the Project Eagle portfolio.

Mr Kenny denied any wrongdoing at Nama's end.

"Nama continues to co-operate with the NCA and other relevant authorities in relation to investigations," he said.

"The Department of Finance has not had any direct contact with the NCA but they are willing and available if they are required."

Two men were arrested in Co Down last week as part of the fraud squad inquiry and subsequently released on bail.

The £7 million was paid into an account controlled by a former managing partner of Belfast-based law firm Tughans who resigned after it was unearthed.

Tughans, which was involved in the Nama transaction as subcontractor for Cerberus's US lawyers Brown Rudnick, insisted it was not aware of the transfer.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said some of the allegations around the deal were shocking and demanded a judicial inquiry.

"It is still today unclear why the Minister (for Finance Michael Noonan) did not intervene to exercise his general powers of direction over Nama to suspend the sales process until these matters were fully investigated," he said.

Mr Adams told the Dail parliament in Dublin that a member of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory board offered to disclose information on the value of the Project Eagle loans to one bidder, US investment house Pimco, and demanded a £15 million fixer fee.

He also claimed the Nama adviser was charging for advice to others about Nama and that he had an unethical working relationship with a Nama officer to get sensitive information.

"If found to be accurate, these are serious allegations of financial corruption and insider trading in which the taxpayer has suffered a huge loss," Mr Adams said.

Nama is the so-called "bad bank" set up in Ireland at the height of the financial crisis to take property linked loans off the books of bailed-out banks.

It signed off on the Project Eagle deal in April 2014 by selling 800 property linked loans to Cerberus, a multi billion fund which boasts former US vice president Dan Quayle in its ranks.

It offered £1.241 billion for the loans when the reserve price was £1.24 billion.

Mr Kenny said no allegations had been made against the agency.

But he gave his commitment after Nama revealed it was on course to make 2.3 billion euro profit on the 31 billion euro it spent buying toxic property and development loans.

Mr Adams told the Taoiseach: "Nama is an arm of the state. It isn't your money, it isn't my money. It's the people's money.

"Nama should be accountable. The Government should be transparent, open and accountable as well."

Other investigations are ongoing into Project Eagle including by the US Department of Justice's Securities and Exchange Commission.

Parliamentary inquiries have been conducted in Stormont and Dublin.

All parties involved in the £1.2 billion transaction in 2014 have denied wrongdoing.

Press Association

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