Government under pressure to probe €1.6 billion sale of Project Eagle

Report into NAMA's largest ever property deal will be released this week

michael noonan, nama

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan at the launch of NAMA's annual report in June 2016 | Photo: RollingNews.ie

The government is facing mounting pressure to launch an inquiry into the €1.6 billion sale of Northern Irish loan portfolio Project Eagle.

Opposition parties have called for a probe into NAMA's largest ever property deal following concerns that the agency may have lost "hundreds of millions of euro".

The Irish Times reported on Saturday that a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) found "shortcomings" and "irregularities" in the handling of the sale to US firm Cerberus.

The review is expected to be strongly challenged by NAMA, the paper said.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan is due to present the findings to cabinet on Wednesday.

DUP MLA Claire Hanna, who sits on Stormont's finance committee, told Newstalk Breakfast this morning that north-south cooperation on the matter was vital.

She said a cross-border investigation that can compel anyone to testify was necessary, given that a number of key witnesses had refused to cooperate with the committee's inquiry.

"It is the people’s sacrifice that required the maximum return.

"I think they are entitled to know and have maximum confidence that they got the return they deserve. It certainly looks like that has not been the case."

Ms Hanna added that it was unacceptable for elected representatives to use an ongoing probe by the UK’s National Crime Agency to delay an inquiry.

While the deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin, supports a cross-border inquiry, the DUP first minister, Arlene Foster, considers such a move inappropriate.

"It’s fair to say the DUP have frustrated any investigation into this and are continuing with the 'nothing to see here' line, which is no longer credible," Ms Hanna said.

'Significant questions'

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams this weekend reiterated his party's call for the Project Eagle sale to be reviewed, saying the C&AG report needed to be published "as a matter of urgency".

"The report appears to confirm that process of sale of these assets was highly questionable and at a cost to the state of hundreds of millions," he said. 

"Concerns about these transactions were raised with Micheal Noonan during the sales process. 

"He went ahead with the sale, knowing that there were significant questions raised about the role of a committee member." 

It emerged last year that businessman Frank Cushnahan met with US investment firm Pimco, an unsuccessful bidder for the portfolio, months before resigning from NAMA's Northern Ireland advisory committee in October 2013.

The agency said it later discovered that Pimco had agreed to pay Mr Cushnahan £5 million if its bid was accepted.

The portfolio was eventually sold to the US-based Cerberus fund in 2014.

In a recording broadcast by the BBC Spotlight programme, Mr Cushnahan claimed he was due to receive money for that deal. He has always denied that was set to receive payment.

Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Social Democrats have also urged the government to launch a commission of inquiry into the sale. 

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said: "We believe the inquiry into NAMA’s affairs should be modular in structure, as in the case of the Siteserv Commission, focusing on specific areas of concern.

"As there is strong reason to believe criminal acts have been committed with regard to the handling of the Project Eagle sale the investigation must address these quickly and law enforcement must be called in to deal with the evidence provided.

"It's crucial that this process begins in earnest and that the investigation is not a drawn out process which takes many months or years to conclude."