Ireland’s “bad bank” has insisted it has no knowledge of an alleged £45 million pot for “fixers” behind Northern Ireland’s biggest property deal.
The National Assets Management Agency (Nama) told a parliamentary inquiry in Dublin that allegations around the Project Eagle sale are vague, implausible and without evidence.
Frank Daly, chairman of Nama, said: “It is unfortunate, to say the least, that in some cases those making the allegations appear unconcerned about the reputational or commercial damage that their unsubstantiated allegations may cause to the organisation concerned or to any individuals that they may name.
“Often there are no consequences for them if their allegations prove to be without foundation, whereas the reputational damage to the organisation or individual may well be impossible to reverse.”
Nama offered to publish full details of fees it paid over the sale of Project Eagle, a portfolio of loans linked to about 800 properties in Northern Ireland sold for £1.6 billion to US investor Cerberus.
Mr Daly added: “We have nothing to hide.”
In a staunch defence of Nama’s work the chairman also said it has raised its profit forecasts on the expected wind-up before 2020 from 1 billion euro (£735 million) to 1.75 billion euro (£1.3 billion).
On the Project Eagle deal, Nama said the buyers will make about 200 million euro (£147 million) gross profit.
Independent TD Mick Wallace, a former builder, first raised allegations about the sale by exposing a £7 million deposit in an offshore account which he said had been earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician.
Subsequently he said £45 million had been earmarked for “fixers” behind the scenes in the Project Eagle deal.
He also claimed some developers were being asked to buy back their loans from investors for half of what they originally borrowed.
As well as parliamentary probes in Stormont and Dublin, the UK’s National Crime Agency is investigating the sale.
Nama met the NCA several weeks ago and Mr Daly said the criminal investigation is not concerned with the bank’s role.
Nama insisted that its due diligence calculated that the Project Eagle portfolio was only worth 27% of what was originally borrowed.
Mr Daly said some of the assets may have been worth 50% but others were worth as little as 5%.
He defended the sale rather than attempting to hold on to the loans in the hope of a bounce in the Northern Ireland property market.
Mr Daly was later accused by Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald of failing Nama.
She claimed the plug should have been pulled on the entire Project Eagle sale when it was discovered that a former member of Nama’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee, Frank Cushnahan, had been in contact with investment house Pimco, one of the last three bidders in the sale.
“I do not agree that the bidding process had been corrupt,” Mr Daly said.
“I absolutely stand over the integrity of the process and stand over the fact that the taxpayer got value for money.”
Mr Daly offered to get support from the Nama board to meet the Stormont finance committee in private after the agency was accused of stonewalling the Belfast assembly’s inquiries into Project Eagle.
Daithi McKay, the chair of the Assembly Finance Committee in Belfast and a Sinn Fein MLA, said Nama’s refusal to appear at a public hearing in Northern Ireland was deeply frustrating.
“Nama and others cannot continue to use the excuse of the ongoing criminal investigation as a reason for not coming before the committee,” he said.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, the NI Deputy First Minister, said he would be willing to give evidence on his knowledge of the Project Eagle sale to the Public Accounts Committee.
Forty one files on the sale of Project Eagle were released by the Department of Finance at 9pm, sparking withering attacks from members of the Public Accounts Committee
One document showed Mr McGuinness had been listed as attending a teleconference on the sale of the Nama portfolio, with Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson, despite him saying previously that he had been “kept in the dark”.
Independent TD Shane Ross said the publication of the documents was “deliberate and markedly politically divisive”.
“it’s quite shocking and quite extraordinary when these documents should be used at this stage when it’s almost impossible to digest them,” he said.