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NAMA to appear before Republic's PAC over sale of Northern Ireland loan book

Published 06/07/2015

Independent TD Mick Wallace has called for a full independent inquiry
Independent TD Mick Wallace has called for a full independent inquiry

The National Assets Management Agency (NAMA) will come before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to face questions over the ongoing controversy surrounding the sale of its Northern Ireland loan book.

The committee has reportedly scheduled a meeting with NAMA for this Thursday.

The controversy was sparked by Independent TD Mick Wallace who used Dail privilege to claim a secret bank account was established in the Isle of Man by a lawyer, who was working for Tughans - the law firm involved in buying the loan book.

Mr Wallace said the Isle of Man account was earmarked for an unnamed Northern Ireland politician and contained €9.8m.

The lawyer, named by Tughans as former managing partner Ian Coulter,  has since left the law firm and the money was retrieved from the Isle of Man account by Tughans who have reported the matter to the Northern Ireland Law Society.

The firm said it is not linked to any political party nor has it ever made any party political donations.

PAC member and Limerick Fine Gael TD said he was "anxious" for NAMA to answer questions surrounding the sale.

"I think that it would help if NAMA came before us as soon as possible to answer questions so that the air can be cleared.

Mr Wallace said at the weekend that he knows the name of the Northern Irish politician but decided against naming him.

He said: "I could have named the politician against whom the allegations are being made, but I haven't. He would have been presumed guilty if I had mentioned him.

"Let's have an investigation of all these matters. Rather than speculate on whether money changed hands or if deals were done or if the best prices were achieved, let's have an inquiry," he said.

While Nama is not directly implicated in the controversy over the "diverted" fees, and had no contractual relationship with Tughans, the agency is coming under pressure to explain what, if anything, it knew about the scandal.

Nama declined to make any comment on what steps, if any, it had taken to investigate the circumstances surrounding the matter and their potential wider implications for the Project Eagle sale.

Nama has come under increasing scrutiny over its write downs and business practices from TDs in the Dail while Fianna Fail has recently tabled a raft of parliamentary questions about Nama's Northern Ireland operations.

The discounted sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book is the agency's single biggest sale to date.

While Mr Wallace has been urged to go to gardai, he said that he wants an independent commission of inquiry: "Things haven't been done in a transparent way and not all people have always behaved well. I don't believe the best prices have always been achieved on loan portfolios."

The allegations have caused a storm in Northern Ireland, where an emergency sitting of the Northern Assembly's finance committee is to be convened. Political leaders on all sides have called for a full investigation.

David McNarry MLA has called on the PSNI to launch an investigation into the allegations of "fixer payments".

"The PSNI now have a clear line of investigation into the fixers payment put into an Isle of Man bank account.

"I suggest that they pursue vigorously such a line of inquiry," he said.

The Ukip politician added that the public had a right to know who the fixers were and who assisted them in fixing a deal.

"Not only that, but PSNI need to find out who the fixers used with sufficient political clout and access to do the fixing," said Mr McNarry.

He added: "The Nama revelations are sensational enough to bring governments in both Belfast and Dublin tumbling down."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has demanded answers from the Irish government on the sale of the Nama Northern Ireland loan book.

"It should be remembered that this sale was the largest by Nama in which loans with a par value of £4.5bn was sold at a huge discount for £1.3bn... It is not good enough that the government remains silent on this issue which has handed on a massive loss to citizens."

First Minister Peter Robinson said such stories "damage politics". "Those with information should give it to the authorities to test its credibility in a thorough investigation," he added.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called for an immediate and full police probe.

Chair of the SDLP Assembly group Alban Maginness said: "Over the last few days a number of serious allegations have been raised regarding the sale of the Northern Ireland property loan portfolio of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) in 2014.

"While the details are still emerging, it is clear that these allegations are of an exceptionally serious nature and that there are a number of questions that urgently need answered.

"Accordingly the SDLP are calling for an emergency sitting of the Assembly on Thursday the 9th of July. In order to maintain public confidence in the Assembly the SDLP calls upon other political parties to support us in our request for an emergency sitting."

TUV leader Jim Allister said that questions need to be answered "for the sake of public confidence".

Justice Minister David Ford said anyone with evidence of criminal wrongdoing should report it to police.

"This allegation is of the utmost seriousness," he added. "If Mr Wallace has something to report, I would encourage him to bring it forward to An Garda Siochana and the PSNI, and allow them to investigate thoroughly."

In a statement on Friday, Nama said that in January 2014 it appointed Lazard, an international investment bank to advise and oversee Project Eagle, the sale of its €4.5bn loan book in Northern Ireland. Lazard invited nine major global investment groups to tender. Cerberus Capital Management, an American firm, emerged as the highest and preferred bidder for the portfolio in April 2014. The sale was completed two months later.

Nama said it got assurances from Cerebus before the sale, that it wasn't paying a fee to anyone connected with Nama and the sale process.

Cerebus also issued a statement expressing serious concern over the sale. A spokesman for Cerberus said: "We are deeply troubled by Mick Wallace's allegations and we want to make it clear that no improper or illegal fees were paid by us or on our behalf and we take any allegations to the contrary extremely seriously.

"We appointed Brown Rudnick as our lawyers. We were advised by them that they would be seeking local counsel support in Northern Ireland by Tughans and that they would be paying Tughans out of their fees. Cerberus has never paid Tughans."

Tughans also denied any wrongdoing. According to its statement, the former partner left the practice while the law firm Tughans voluntarily reported the matter to the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

One of two former members of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee said that Mick Wallace's allegations came as "an absolute shock". He said he was excluded from the sale of the Northern Ireland loan book.

Background

Nama (National Asset Management Agency), the Republic of Ireland's state-controlled "bad bank", was set up to handle property loans made by the Republic of Ireland's banks before the financial crash.

It sold its entire Northern Ireland property loan portfolio last year to New York-based investment firm Cerberus Capital Management for more than £1bn. The loans originally had a value of £4.5bn.

Nama-controlled loans included office blocks, shopping developments, pubs, hotels and land.

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