A committee of politicians is about to publish its report into the controversial sale by the National Asset Management Agency of its loans in Northern Ireland.

The agency is accused of short-changing the taxpayer and there are also corruption allegations that are the subject of a criminal investigation.  

RTÉ Business Editor David Murphy answers the key questions. 

What is this about?

The State’s bad bank, the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA), sold its loans in Northern Ireland in one block in 2014 to US fund Cerberus for £1.3bn in a deal code-named Project Eagle.

The sale was reviewed by the spending watchdog the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG).

It says there are serious shortcomings. Its most controversial finding is that the loans were sold with a “probable loss of value” to the State of up to £190m or €220m.

It also raised questions about selling the loans in one tranche as opposed to breaking them up.

Why should I care?

It is taxpayer’s money. Any possibility that the State was short-changed is a big deal and the sums involved are huge.  

Why is this in the news now?

The Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee conducted a series of hearings into the C&AG’s critical findings.

It heard from all the main players including the Comptroller & Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, and NAMA’s CEO Brendan McDonagh.

The committee’s report is due to be published imminently. Its central finding supports the C&AG’s conclusions that NAMA should have received more for the loans.

The importance of that finding is that it paves the way for a commission of investigation into the sale of Project Eagle.

What does NAMA have to say about all of this?

NAMA’s CEO Brendan McDonagh defends the £1.3bn price paid for Project Eagle.

He argues if the price was too low, other bidders would not have pulled out.

He says four leading firms of advisers supported NAMA’s view and the agency was paid more than its reserve price.

He says NAMA achieved the best value for the loans and delaying any further would have created hazards.

What about the corruption allegations?

There are serious corruption allegations about the sale. In 2015 Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace made a series of explosive allegations in the Dáil.

It subsequently emerged the successful bidders Cerberus transferred £15m to an Isle of Man bank account as a fixer fee.

An audio recording obtained by BBC’s Spotlight showed that Northern businessman Frank Cushnahan had said half of the money was for him for facilitating the sale.

Mr Cushnahan also served on NAMA’s Northern advisory board.

NAMA says Mr Cushnahan was not in possession of confidential information and the issue of fixer fees did not affect the sale.

NAMA’s Brendan McDonagh says allegations of wrongdoing are being made about the buyers, not the sellers.

What is happening about these allegations?

There is an investigation under way in the North by the National Crime Agency.

What did the C&AG say about the allegations of fixer fees?

It says that when NAMA became aware of the fact that a member of its Northern committee was in line for a fee it should have become concerned.

It says “the allegations of Mr Cushnahan’s involvement in an arrangement to share fees... warranted more action by NAMA.”

What about Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s involvement?

Michael Noonan met Cerberus before it concluded the deal with NAMA.

The Public Accounts Committee is going to describe the meeting as “procedurally inappropriate”, a phrase which the Fine Gael members of the committee have voted against.

Mr Noonan has objected to the criticism and said he was never asked about this issue when he appeared before the committee.


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