Wednesday 21 March 2018

We need the full facts on NAMA deals

NAMA, one of the most secretive State organisations, is carrying out an internal investigation into the facts surrounding a property transaction involving one of its former employees. The agency has not identified the former employee, nor the value of the transaction. However, national newspapers have reported that one of NAMA's former property portfolio managers, Enda Farrell, bought a two-acre property in Lucan, west Dublin, for €410,000 at the end of last year.

A Sunday newspaper said Mr Farrell had made an unsolicited approach to the property's former owner, businessman Thomas Dowd, who had originally bought the house for €1.4m in 2004.

It was claimed and later verified by a spokesman for Mr Farrell that Mr Farrell didn't inform Mr Dowd that he was a NAMA executive. The agency then, reportedly, allowed Mr Dowd sell the property in a private, off-market sale.

Mr Farrell has since said he had been given permission to buy the house and its adjoining land, which local auctioneers value at around €725,000.

Without naming names, NAMA said that ' based on an initial review and on independent valuations received, NAMA is satisfied that the price achieved on the transaction was in line with market levels at the time that the transaction was agreed'.

' The ex-employee was not, in any way, involved in approval of the transaction,' NAMA said.

The spokesman for Mr Farrell said there is nothing in NAMA's code of conduct restricting employees from buying properties for their own use from the agency and said his client believes he acted with probity.

On the matter of making an unsolicited approach for the house, Mr Farrell is understood to have surmised the property was for sale as it was derelict. He also claims to have checked his actions were above board, with the head of compliance at the NTMA.

However, NAMA's code of conduct appears to ban executives from becoming involved in private dealings with property on its books.

NAMA'S internal auditor, Deloitte, is now working with the agency to investigate ' the factual position in relation to the transaction, including the level of adherence to statutory and other disclosure requirements by the ex-employee'.

Fianna Fáil's finance spokesman Michael McGrath said that an instance of a senior NAMA executive purchasing a property from the agency's portfolio, in an off-market deal, should be referred to the gardaí for investigation.

Given the secrecy with which NAMA operates, questions certainly have to be asked about how much it knows about who is buying property it controls and how it keeps track of its deals.

NAMA is excluded from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, but in this case, it should quickly publish the results of its investigations into the deal. We as taxpayers are funding its acquisitions and we have a right to know the full facts about this deal and whether there are any others on the NAMA books that would benefit from public scrutiny.