| 15.2°C Dublin

Elaine Byrne: It's time to tackle €74bn gamekeeper turned poacher dilemma

Enda Farrell was the portfolio manager for Nama from 2009 until he moved to Forum Partners in April 2012.

On his social networking Linkedin profile, Farrell described his role in Nama as: "Responsible for property valuation due diligence on €74bn portfolio of property related loans (both performing and non-performing) acquired from a number of Irish financial institutions."

Nama is the biggest property portfolio in the world because it has spent €31bn of our money to acquire those loans. That amounts to all the tax collected in Ireland last year. Farrell was part of the Nama team that managed the sale of toxic property loans and assets on our behalf.

In December last year, he bought a house owned by a Nama client. In 2004, Thomas Dowd, a developer, paid €1.4m for the same two-acre Lucan property on the picturesque banks of the River Liffey. Farrell bought it from Dowd for €410,000, a 70 per cent markdown. So, a valuable property owned by a Nama developer was privately sold to a Nama employee.

Nama became aware of this in August, nine months after the house was sold, five months after Farrell had left Nama and around the same time the media became aware of the incident.

After a "comprehensive review" by auditors Deloitte, it was found that the property was sold at "market value".

Nonetheless, although he was no longer working for Nama, Farrell was judged to be in breach of internal procedures because he failed to disclose the transaction and to obtain pre-approval from the NTMA, which is responsible for Nama, to purchase the property.

Nama has not published Deloitte's audit. It is not clear why it took internal controls so long to be alerted, particularly when Farrell submitted his mortgage application forms from his bank to the NTMA as part of the routine income certification checks.

There is no such thing, of course, as Nama staff discounts and all its 214 employees are bound by the Nama code of conduct and the ethics regulatory framework to prevent insider information and abuse of office.

There the matter would have rested.

However, in the course of its audit, Deloitte discovered that Farrell may have taken confidential data from Nama without authorisation. Without the audit, this alleged breach would never have been exposed.

After the audit, Nama acted quickly and a High Court discovery order of Farrell's home this month revealed 30 emails sent to his wife with file attachments containing what Nama's legal representative described as "highly confidential and commercially sensitive information".

His wife is Alice Kramer, a manager at Ernst & Young, according to her recently deleted Linkedin account. She advises on compliance, apparently, this involves making sure companies follow regulations and don't break the rules.

Nama's legal representation told the High Court that Farrell's emails to Kramer contained information which related to loans and properties with a combined value of billions of euro.

This includes a master spreadsheet of all loans acquired by Nama. Such information "in the hands of others", Nama argued, could be used to gain a commercial advantage at its expense. Not only does it potentially expose what Nama's "bottom line" is, but it enables a prospective purchaser to contact any developer within the €74bn property portfolio and undercut Nama.

Farrell has worked for UK-based Forum Partners since April. His job is to find distressed debt deals in the Irish market for the €5bn real estate investment management firm.

Forum Partners was obviously delighted to secure Farrell's services and issued a glowing press release.

"Enda's experience and knowledge of real estate markets will further strengthen the expertise of our European team," it read.

Around the time of Farrell's transfer, the founder of Forum Partners, Russell Platt, gave an interview to the Financial Times.

"Right now the elephant in the room is the European opportunity which is enormously disproportionate to the scale of capital and expertise," he said. "The opportunity arises from the various problems banks face in dealing with borrowers in difficulties."

The Nama spreadsheet has a list of most, if not all, of the distressed debt in Ireland.

Farrell is now gamekeeper turned poacher, no longer working in taxpayers' public interest but for the private interest of an investment firm. As he was not one of the 12 members of the Nama board, Farrell was not subject to any post-employment restrictions under the ethics acts.

Nama has reported the removal of the confidential information to the gardai and a report has been made to the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

There must be cause to widen these restrictions outside of the board and to publish disclosures of interest on the internet, as is the case currently for politicians.

How many staff have left Nama or the State-run banks in the past year? Have any post-employment restrictions been evoked in the past four years?

Nama told the Sunday Independent that no properties were sold without a competitive bidding process and that all properties were independently valued before any sale.

Politicians across party lines are becoming more vocal in their criticism about Nama. Labour's Joe Costello has been the most blunt: "Nama is operating under a veil of secrecy; it is a secret organisation."

Nama does not own this information. We do. All €74bn of it.

Sunday Independent