DID NAMA LOSE out on a potential hundreds of millions of euro as it sold off its Northern Ireland loan book?
A report due to be published later will put the handling of that sale process under a critical, political spotlight.
According to the Comptroller and Audit General (C&AG) audit, the so-called bad bank did not get the highest value possible for the sale, which became known internally as Project Eagle.
Cabinet discussed the 700-page document today before it is published this afternoon.
In a statement, the government said that the report raises “a number of important issues which the Government acknowledges will require further investigation”.
“The Public Accounts Committee is an appropriate forum for consideration of the C&AG report and for the exercise of public accountability in these matters. The Government expects that the PAC will wish to convene a public hearing at an early date. It would welcome such a public hearing and will offer any support that the PAC needs in the conduct of its inquiries.
The Government also recognises that it has its own responsibilities to ensure that all matters of public concern with regard to the functions of an important public body such as NAMA are fully addressed.
“It has therefore decided that the Taoiseach will invite Opposition party leaders to meet him tomorrow with a view to seeking agreement on the issues of public concern that require further investigation and the most appropriate nature and terms of reference for such an investigation.
Subject to the outcome of those discussions, the matter will then be the subject of a Dáil debate early in the new session.
Public Accounts Committee
Speaking to RTÉ’s Primetime last night, PAC chair Sean Fleming confirmed that Nama chairman Frank Daly and CEO Brendan McDonagh – as well as the Comptroller – will attend a hearing next week.
Fianna Fáil’s Fleming has already broached the idea of a collaboration with the Stormont Committee on Finance in Northern Ireland. Previously, Nama officials refused an invitation to act as witnesses as it was an authority outside this jurisdiction.
Fleming wants both entities to act as proxies for each other.
In his plan, members of the Stormont Committee on Finance could request PAC members to ask certain, specific questions. They could then watch proceedings in the visitors’ gallery. A reciprocal arrangement would then be put in place in the North.
The proposal will be put to the PAC when it meets next week. The Laois-Offaly deputy hopes to have wrapped up the investigation – with a report published – by the end of the year.
Fleming also wants to ask Finance Minister Michael Noonan to attend the hearing on Thursday, 22 September to answer questions about the sale of the 800 properties attached to the loan book.
What was Project Eagle?
In 2014, Nama quietly sold its Northern Ireland property portfolio to a US investment firm called Cerberus Capital Management.
That deal – codename Eagle – has since become massively controversial. For one, independent TD Mick Wallace has alleged that £7 million that was deposited in an Isle of Man account was destined for a Northern Ireland politician.
He also stood up in the Dáil and told TDs that the 800-strong loan book was sold for €1.5 billion to the private equity company, despite having been worth €4.5 billion.
The report does not deal with any possible improprieties. And, according to Noonan,
There’s nothing in it that suggests there’s anything illegal, anything improper, or any irregularities in the way that Nama behaved.
However, advance leaks of the report suggest “hundreds of millions of euros” were lost due to shortcomings in the transaction.
The audit looks at whether the sales process was problematic when attempting to ensure the best monetary outcome. It was commissioned after allegations that Belfast businessman Frank Cushanan, who had been advising Nama, had also been working for a US company seeking to buy the state agency’s Northern Irish property portfolio.
Cushnahan has denied any wrongdoing.
Nama is expected to strongly contest all findings of the C&AG audit.
With reporting by Darragh Peter Murphy, Christina Finn and Paul Hosford