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Michael Noonan refutes suggestion he 'acted inappropriately' over Project Eagle sale

Noonan met with senior Ceberus representatives on the eve of the bid closing date.

Minister Michael Noonan
Minister Michael Noonan
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE MINISTER FOR Finance, Michael Noonan, has refuted the suggestion that he “acted inappropriately” with regard to an element of the sale of the Nama Northern Ireland loan book, known as Project Eagle.

The Public Accounts Committee report into the sale of Project Eagle was published this afternoon and states that Nama lost €800 million in relation to the loan portfolio in four years.

It declared that the sales strategy was “seriously deficient”.

“Inappropriate”

Noonan and Department of Finance officials held separate meetings with Cerberus representatives on the eve of the bid closing date.

Project Eagle was sold to Cerberus, with the deal closing in June 2014.

The committee said it considers that ”it was not procedurally appropriate for the Minister for Finance [Michael Noonan] to meet with senior Cerberus representatives the day before the Project Eagle bid closing date”. It said this could have given the perception that Cerberus was benefitting from preferential treatment.

It also said that it considers that it was “not procedurally appropriate” for the Department of Finance officials to meet with Cerberus representatives in the days leading up to the Project Eagle bid closing date.

Again, it said this could have given the perception that Cerberus was benefitting from preferential treatment.

Refuting suggestion

In a statement, Noonan said that he refutes “absolutely the validity of any suggestion that I or my officials acted inappropriately in meeting with Cerberus in March 2014″.

He said that both he and the Department of Finance “have at all times cooperated with the Committee and have provided a large amount of supporting documentation to the Committee”.

Nama sold its Northern Ireland loanbook in June 2014 for £1,137m. A Comptroller and Auditor General examination had to be carried out because of the size of the sale and the recorded loss associated with it. The Pac considered the report and held 11 meetings to further examine what went wrong.

Noonan said that he voluntarily appeared before the Committee for over five hours in October of last year, describing it as “a decision which was largely unprecedented”.

“Following leaks of a draft PAC working document last month, I wrote to the Chair of the PAC highlighting my concerns surrounding the leaking of information and what appeared to be unfounded claims contained therein,” said Noonan in a statement.

I note that my letter has been included with the report. It is disappointing that unjustified and unfounded views have made their way into the final iteration.”
I refute absolutely the validity of any suggestion that I or my officials acted inappropriately in meeting with Cerberus in March 2014. At no point was I or my officials invited to discuss this meeting at the PAC nor was the alleged impropriety of this meeting raised in follow-up correspondence. The note of the meeting with Cerberus is on the Department of Finance’s website and is clear in stating that any issue relating to NAMA should be raised directly with NAMA.

He described it as “entirely appropriate” that he as Minister for Finance would meet with the chairperson of a major international investment fund, “a former US Secretary of the Treasury no less”, at his request whilst he was in Dublin on business.

This is part of the job of a Minister for Finance.

He also noted that when he appeared before the committee in October of last year, “much of the discussion revolved around whether I should have intervened to put an end to the Project Eagle sales process”.

I welcome the fact that the PAC accepted my evidence regarding this issue, and in doing so has recognised the clear legal separation between the Minister for Finance and NAMA’s commercial operations. As I stated at the time, I as Minister had no role, and have no role in relation to individual transactions and I am pleased that the PAC report has not suggested otherwise.

He said he will be reviewing the report over the coming days. The report will be debated in the Dáil next week and Noonan said he looks forward to making a full contribution to that debate.

Letter

Noonan wrote a letter to Pac chairman Sean Fleming in February of this year saying that he had read articles which mention a draft working paper on the committee’s findings. He took issue with what was reported to be in this draft working paper.

“There appears to be a clear inference that the committee working paper contains draft conclusions… that both I and my officials acted inappropriately in meeting with Cerberus representatives in the days prior to the Project Eagle sale process closing,” he noted.

He described the suggestions as “extremely damaging to both myself, as Minister, and to my officials”.

I refute absolutely the validity of any such purported conclusions, regardless of whether or not they are ultimately included in the committee’s final report.

He also said in the letter that the records of his and his officials’ evidence confirm that the meetings with Cerberus were not raised during the committee hearings.

He said that if this was a substantive consideration for the PAC, they should have been invited to publicly state the factual position for the record.

He said the meeting was arranged at the request of Cerberus and was “high level in nature” and that it would have been unusual for him not to meet with such “notable individuals and firms”.

He said that his meetings with Cerberus in March 2014 didn’t alter the fact that “neither I nor my officials were involved in the Project Eagle sales process”.

He said it was established that the Project Eagle process was underway, and that Cerberus did inform them at the meetings that they were interested in the portfolio.

He also said that records relating to the meetings had previously been released under the Freedom of Information Act in November 2015. Noonan himself provided records relating to these meetings directly to the committee in his correspondence in November and December 2016.

Read: Dáil committee inquiry concludes Nama lost €800 million on Project Eagle in four years>

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