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Nama says it acted in the "interest of the Irish taxpayers" at all times during Project Eagle sale

Nama chairman Frank Daly is appearing before the PAC this afternoon.

Nama chairman Frank Daly appearing before the PAC today.
Nama chairman Frank Daly appearing before the PAC today.
Image: Oireachtas TV

Updated 3.25 pm

THE CHAIRMAN OF the board of Nama has defended the organisation’s controversial sale of its entire Northern Ireland portfolio in front of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee.

Frank Daly said that the sale of the Project Eagle portfolio for €1.6 billion to US firm Cerberus in April 2014 was the best deal the organisation could have got.

He roundly rejected the findings of the recent report by the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) which found that Nama could have gotten more for the sale.

The C&AG report found that the sale represented a probable loss of £190 million (€220 million) to the State.

Daly said that Nama “acted commercially” at all times.

“Nama does not believe that… the sale represented a probable loss to Irish taxpayers,” he said.

He also said that the price set on the Northen Ireland loanbook was voted on unanimously by the board of directors and no one else.

“Nobody influenced Nama on this,” he said.

He said that he rejected the findings of the C&AG, calling the dispute a “serious professional disagreement”.

Earlier, the Auditor General was forced to defend his staff’s experience in compiling the report under questioning by a Fine Gael member of the Public Accounts Committee.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, who oversaw the sales process, will attend the PAC on 6 October, after reportedly receiving legal advice from the Attorney General that he could be compelled to attend the committee if he refused their invitation.

cag-committee The State's Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy. Source: Oireachtas TV

This morning, Fine Gael TD Peter Burke asked whether the C&AG’s staff had staff with sufficient commercial expertise in order to sift through Nama’s transactions.

Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said that his staff also audit the HSE, the NTMA and the Central Bank, and that they had been “engaged in an audit of public bodies for several years”.

I don’t believe that we are without relevant qualifications.

Standard

He added: “I’m satisfied that our staff has the experience… we use the same techniques that Nama use for its cashflow projections. It’s a pretty standard methodology.”

The C&AG also rejected Burke’s contention that the whole process was “very complex”.

“It’s standard, it’s a standard methodology,” he told the committee.

David Cullinane of Sinn Féin later asked the C&AG to outline the expertise in his office.

C&AG said he had already done this when Cullinane was absent from the committee.

Burke Peter Burke with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in February. Source: Rollingnews.ie

Not true

Deputy Burke also asked whether it was true that the C&AG attended Nama’s audit committee meetings. McCarthy said this was not true, but that some of staff attended up to nine meetings a year, but only at the invitation of Nama.

McCarthy also said he and his team looked at 2,000 documents, which Nama extracted from 40,000 documents pertaining to the whole process.

He began this morning’s session by saying that his office was never challenged by an audited body in the way it was challenged by Nama.

Cassels Peter Cassells TD. Source: Oireachtas TV

Del Boy

“I am happy I was able to publish the report I wanted to,” McCarthy added.

The obligation is on me to give my opinion.

The C&AG’s report raised questions about how the loan portfolio was valued and marketed for sale, as well as discussing potential conflicts of interest.

Fianna Fáil’s Shane Cassells accused Nama of approaching the report in a way “that strikes me as a Del Boy attitude”.

Cassells also told the hearing that the C&AG he had “given us a taste and left us hanging” in regard to Nama’s actions.

Asked whether Nama had just done what they were legally obliged to do, rather than what was prudent, the C&AG said: “I think they could have done more.”

He added: “My point is Nama could have made further inquiries and taken further action.

“You have to do what’s right in the situation. It’s a very experienced [Nama] board… I can’t say what decision they should have taken.”

MacDonald Mary Lou MacDonald at the Public Accounts Committee this morning. Source: Oireachtas TV

Appropriate

Nama have also been busy this morning. Their PR company Gordon MRM has disputed some of the Auditor General’s statements, particularly the contention that Nama didn’t dispute the discount rates contained in the report until June, though they had been shown the first drafts in January.

Mary Lou MacDonald said that Nama had criticised the C&AG for “not meeting” with the Nama board.

McCarthy said the was a letter of request from Nama for the C&AG to meet the board in April 2016, but he didn’t think that was appropriate.

“My concern was that I needed something on record,” McCarthy said.

I can’t rely on a conversation… for my report. What I wanted was a single view from the board.

“If I was to engage with board members, I would have wanted to put a series of questions to them, so we were into a whole other process around that.

“I really didn’t want another area where we were disagreeing over what had been said.”

The C&AG also confirmed that no contact was made with either Ronnie Hanna, then Nama’s head of asset recovery, or Frank Cushnahan. He said that doing so would have moved his audit into “inquiry mode”.

Obliged

Asked by Fianna Fáil’s Marc McSharry about the situation whereby one State agency (Nama) is disputing the findings of another (the C&AG), McCarthy said:

“I think it’s not a situation that I would have wanted, and if there were anything I could do that could have prevented it I would have.

“At the end of the day my role under the Constitution, me as Auditor General, I have to report.

“I am obliged, if I feel there is a matter I have to report, on to report to the best of my ability.”

McCarthy said that his staff are currently auditing Nama for 2016.

“Normal relations are in place,” he said. My staff are working in Nama at the moment on the audit, and I have spoken to them is anything ok.

“There is no difficulty, everybody is behaving in a very professional way.”

Nama’s response

Appearing before the committee this lunchtime, Nama has said it was “extraordinary” the C&AG didn’t use external expert advice in its Project Eagle investigation.

Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh said he “emphatically rejects” the C&AG’s key conclusion that the sale of the Project Eagle portfolio involved a “significant probable loss of value to the State”.

With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald

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