Belfast Telegraph

Nama readies €3bn loans sale despite inquiry on horizon

By Shane Phelan

Nama has shrugged off criticism from the Republic of Ireland's most powerful spending watchdog by launching a €3bn (£2.5bn) loan sale, it has been revealed.

The State agency pulled the trigger on the massive sale yesterday, just 24 hours after the publication of a highly critical report by the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) into the agency's handling of the controversial Project Eagle sale of Northern Ireland loans.

Last night, a spokesman for Nama confirmed that the so-called Project Gem portfolio of hundreds of property loans had been launched for sale, but said it had been planned for some time.

"This project has been scheduled for some time. We have an important job of work to do and our focus continues to be to secure the maximum return for the taxpayer," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the Irish government has bowed to pressure from Opposition TDs for a statutory inquiry into the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book, Project Eagle.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday accepted the demands for an independent investigation as the fallout from the publication of the C&AG's report continues.

Dublin sources said there is "growing consensus" between Mr Kenny and Opposition leaders as to what approach should be taken to investigate the sale of the property portfolio by the country's bad bank.

However, several issues need to be ironed out, including what sort of individual should head up such a probe.

The C&AG report, which carefully scrutinised the sale, found the taxpayer suffered a potential loss of £190m (€223.5m).

The report also questions whether Nama failed to take more action when it learned Frank Cushnahan - who was appointed to Nama's advisory committee in 2010 on the recommendation of the DUP - stood to be paid more than £5m in so-called 'success fees' by one of the bidders.

Amid all the fallout, Nama has categorically rejected many of the report's findings.

The body described the report by Seamus McCarthy as "fundamentally unsound and unstable and cannot be left unchallenged".

The controversy has rocked the Irish government and led to serious questions for Finance Minister Michael Noonan as to whether he acted soon enough.

After repeatedly resisting calls for a independent investigation, Mr Kenny yesterday accepted the demands from Fianna Fail and other parties.

The Fine Gael leader asked his counterparts to submit recommendations by the end of next week as to how a statutory inquiry can work and, in particular, overcome the fact that there are two jurisdictions involved.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Martin said he believes these challenges can be overcome.

"There's a lot of work that an inquiry can do, in terms of working within the Republic, access to documentation within Nama, Nama personnel," he said.

"Remember in the banking inquiry, which had specific legislation, some of the key personalities involved in the banking world were not interviewed or brought before that inquiry.

"Yet we had an inquiry which shed considerable light on many of the issues pertaining to that, so I think it's equally possible here."

Sinn Fein and some left-wing TDs told Mr Kenny they believe an inquiry should be wider in scope and investigate Nama as a whole.

Pearse Doherty, the party's finance spokesperson, has called for all future sales of Nama to be ceased.

Irish Independent


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