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'It wouldn't have made any difference' - Nama defends itself from critical Project Eagle report

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee declared this morning that the sales strategy for Project Eagle was “seriously deficient”.

shutterstock_404993302 Source: Shutterstock/rokopix

Updated 17.15

THE DÁIL PUBLIC Accounts Committee (PAC) has this afternoon published its report on the sale of Nama’s northern Irish property portfolio, otherwise known as Project Eagle, and declared the strategy behind the sale as being “seriously deficient”.

PAC likewise claims in its report that Nama lost €800 million in relation to the loan portfolio between the years 2010 and 2014.

That €800 million includes the roughly £162 million sterling (€185 million) lost by Nama on the sale itself, a figure acknowledged by the chief executive of Nama Brendan McDonagh in his testimony before the committee last September.

Nama has this evening defended itself from the report’s conclusions, saying that no other strategy “would have delivered a better financial outcome”, and that it had taken”full advantage of an unexpected commercial opportunity that emerged during the second half of 2013 to sell the Northern Ireland debtor loans as one portfolio”.

“Nama also disputes the suggestion that an additional estimated £190 million could have been realised from an alternative sales process. No independent, third-party market-based analysis has been sought by, or provided to, the committee to support either of these contentions,” this agency said in a statement.

It was the board’s commercial and considered judgement, in full knowledge of the financial implications, that this sale provided a better financial outcome than any alternative monetisation strategy. That was the board’s view in 2014 and it remains the board’s view today.

Controversy

The sale of the portfolio has been a source of mounting controversy for a number of years now.

fleming Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming announcing the publication of the Nama report this afternoon Source: Oireachtas TV

The report today claims:

  • That the sale of Project Eagle was not “a well-designed sales process”
  • The failure to remove controversial businessman Frank Cushnahan from the agency’s northern advisory committee was “a failure of corporate governance” (Cushnahan resigned from the committee in November 2013 citing “personal reasons”
  • Nama’s board was not explicitly informed of the losses that could be incurred by setting a reserve price of sterling £1.3 billion for the sale in 2014
  • Key elements of the sale were “influenced” by the US firm Pimco, which made the initial approach to Nama with regard to the sale of the portfolio
  • The sales strategy regarding the portfolio  included “restrictions of such significance” that the process could be described as “seriously deficient”
  • Nama has been unable to demonstrate that it got “value for money” in the sale

More: Timeline: The seismic controversy over the Project Eagle land sale as it unfolded from start to finish

The report includes, among other things, a strongly worded letter from Minister for Finance Michael Noonan to the committee contesting its suggestion that his meeting in March 2014  with the US fund Cerberus (which eventually bought the portfolio in April 2014 for €1.6 billion) was “inappropriate”.

Noonan had sought a right of reply from the committee regarding its conclusions over his own actions.

This afternoon Noonan refuted “certain findings” of the report.

“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,” the minister said in a statement,” he said.

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.

“It is entirely appropriate that I as Minister for Finance would meet with the Chairman 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 added.

Committee member (and Fine Gael TD) Peter Burke likewise appeared to back the minister and declared that he disagreed with the finding that Noonan’s actions were inappropriate.

Indeed, there appears to be a deal of partisan dispute on the committee as to the report’s interpretation of Noonan’s actions.

Sinn Féin TD and committee member David Cullinane meanwhile said that “good judgement” should have shown that the minister’s actions were “procedurally inappropriate”.

Independent TD Mick Wallace has claimed that the Project Eagle sale undervalued the portfolio by as much as €3 billion.

The PAC’s inquiry into the loan sale was first announced last July. A separate report from the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), meanwhile, released last September, concluded that Nama lost €220 million on the sale, a view today backed by the PAC.

The report concluded that the C&AG report was “evidence-based, balanced, and reasonable”.

Additional reporting Cormac Fitzgerald

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