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'Nothing illegal, nothing improper, no irregularities': Noonan defends Nama over Project Eagle

There are growing calls for a public inquiry in the controversial 2014 sale, to US investment company Cerberus Capital Management.

Nama Chairman Frank Daly (right) and Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh outside Leinster House.
Nama Chairman Frank Daly (right) and Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh outside Leinster House.
Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

MINISTER FOR FINANCE Michael Noonan says a report has found nothing improper or illegal in the Nama sale of its Project Eagle northern portfolio.

The report, compiled by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) into the sale by Nama of its Northern Ireland properties, has been in Minister Noonan’s possession since mid-August but will be published this Wednesday or Thursday.

There are growing calls for a public inquiry in the controversial 2014 sale, to US investment company Cerberus Capital Management.

The portfolio had a book value of £4.5 billion, and advance leaks of the report suggest “hundreds of millions of euros” were lost due to shortcomings in the transaction.

Sinn Féin have called it a “scandal”, and stated that Noonan was aware that there was a problem with the bidding process, that there was an attempt at ‘fixers fees’ and illegal payments, but went ahead with the transaction.

The party, along with some independent TDs, has long called for a public inquiry.

Today the Finance Minister told TheJournal.ie that he has held off publishing it due to the Apple controversy.

“It’s a long report, and people should reflect on it,” he said.

Some of what’s being said about it is incorrect. I mean, there’s nothing in it that suggests there’s anything illegal, anything improper, or any irregularities in the way that Nama behaved.

McDonagh Brendan McDonagh, chief executive of Nama. Source: Rollingnews.ie

Carpark

Nama are expected to strongly contest the C&AG’s findings, in an unprecedented case of one State body publicly contradicting another.

Advance leaks of the report suggest that it does not deal with possible impropriety associated with the sale, but rather with how it matched with Nama’s own overall targets.

The C&AG report was requested 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.

Last week, BBC Spotlight aired a recording of the former Nama adviser accepting £40,000 (about €47,250) from a property developer in a carpark in 2012.

“I also know that suggestions in the report that extra money would have been got are going to be rebutted very strongly by Nama,” Noonan added.

So we’ll see. And Nama are going to rebut it, I presume when it’s published, but they’re also going to rebut before the PAC. So we’ll see where it lands.

The controversy first hit headlines in the Republic when Independent TD Mick Wallace stood up in the Dáil and told TDs that a property portfolio was sold for €1.5 billion to US private equity firm Cerberus, despite having been worth €4.5 billion.

Last month, Wallace and fellow TD Clare Daly launched a new whistleblower website called Namaleaks, seeking to uncover poor practice within the financial institution.

The UK’s National Crime Agency are already investigating the Project Eagle sale, and several arrests have already been made.

Nama sale inquiry

Judicial inquiry

Last weekend, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin joined the leaders of other parties in calling for an inquiry into the sale, which has seemingly been criticised by the report for “shortcomings”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has not ruled out a full judicial inquiry, but such an inquiry may need the co-operation of the Northern Ireland executive, and may require legislation.

Today, Minister Noonan defended himself from criticism by Fianna Fáil that he had failed to publish the report.

“These reports have traditionally gone to Government before they’re published,” he said.

I intend to publish some time in September, if we weren’t fully occupied with the Apple problems in the last couple of meeting it would have been done [then].

“I’m going to do it now on Wednesday. So it’s going to Government now on Wednesday, and it will be published after that.”

Nama have made a complaint to Gardaí about an individual associated with the Project Eagle Sale.

Fine Gael’s Noel Rock, who sits on the PAC, said this lent further weight to calls for a public inquiry, but also complicated matters. He said the Government don’t want to “step on the toes” of the UK’s investigators.

Kelly Labour deputy leader Alan Kelly. Source: Rollingnews.ie

Naive

Labour deputy leader Alan Kelly, Public Accounts Committee vice-chairman, has called for a cross-border statutory inquiry. He said any refusal by politicians in the North to co-operate would “damage the credibility of Northern Ireland politics”.

Nama are due before the PAC on 29 September, and last weekend Kelly said he had been approached by a Nama executive seeking a private meeting before the appearance, which the Labour man called “naive”.

Today Michael Noonan said we should wait for the PAC hearing.

So, what do I think about it? I think that C&AG reports always go to the PAC, and the PAC has a legitimate role now to hold hearings on it.

“I wouldn’t rule out an inquiry after that, but let’s see what comes out of it.”

- With reporting from Christina Finn.

Read: The Government will publish its report into Nama’s controversial multi-billion Project Eagle sale this week

Read: Former Nama adviser secretly recorded accepting almost €50k in car park

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