Former Nama adviser approached Chinese over State loans, book claims

Frank Connolly book looks at role of Project Eagle key player Frank Cushnahan

 Frank Cushnahan: According to Frank Connolly’s book, Chinese investors secretly approached by Mr Cushnahan were prepared to pay £1 billion for some of Nama’s loans.

Frank Cushnahan: According to Frank Connolly’s book, Chinese investors secretly approached by Mr Cushnahan were prepared to pay £1 billion for some of Nama’s loans.

 

Chinese investors secretly approached by former National Asset Management Agency adviser Frank Cushnahan were prepared to pay £1 billion for some of the State body’s loans, according to a new book.

The Belfast businessman is central to the controversy surrounding Project Eagle, Nama’s sale of loans to Northern Ireland-based developers to a US company Cerberus for €1.6 billion in 2014, which is now the subject of several investigations.

Mr Cushnahan, Belfast solicitor Ian Coulter and US lawyers Brown Rudnick, were meant to share £16 million if a competing bidder, Pimco, had bought the loans.

In his book, Nama Land: The Inside Story of Ireland’s Property Sell-Off and the Creation of a New Elite, journalist Frank Connolly says that shortly after joining the agency’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee in 2010, Mr Cushnahan began parading the potential rewards of buying the agency’s Northern Ireland loans to likely buyers.

Without Nama’s knowledge, he recruited a group of Chinese buyers with up to £1 billion to spend through a Far East-based contact, businessman Barry Lloyd.

Between them, about 55 Northern Ireland developers owed Nama £3.35 billion at the time. Some of the bigger borrowers included Paddy Kearney’s Kilmona, Noel Murphy’s MAR Properties and Frank Boyd’s Kilultagh Estates.

As property values had slumped, anyone buying the loans would have paid far less than £3.35 billion, but would still have the right to demand repayment of the full amount due, or take ownership of the properties against which they were secured.

‘Substantial opportunities’

In early 2011, Mr Cushnahan contacted Mr Lloyd, who ran a company called Microchannel Technologies.

According to the book, Mr Lloyd claimed Mr Cushnahan emailed him to say there were “substantial opportunities for major returns” for anyone who could buy assets from developers or Nama.

Mr Lloyd and his business partner Peter Banks sought suitable investors in the Far East. In November 2011, he told Mr Cushnahan a Chinese associate had expressed interest on behalf of some wealthy investors.

He asked Mr Cushnahan to set up meetings with the relevant Nama personnel, politicians and banks to get written authority to engage in talks and to reassure the Chinese that they had the agency’s endorsement.

Mr Cushnahan emailed back to say “we don’t want to get politicians involved because they are too greedy” and pointing out that he himself was the key person.

Following a meeting in December 2011 at Mr Coulter’s former law firm, Tughan’s in Belfast, Mr Lloyd told the Chinese businessman that six proposals had been selected as examples of what assets could be available.

By March 2012, the parties had drawn up agreements between a new company set up for the investment, Mr Lloyd’s Microchannel Far East and Nomura Bank, which was acting for one of the potential buyers.

However, the deal fell apart in April.

Mr Lloyd said Mr Cushnahan’s failure to get “formal written authority from Nama” was partly to blame for this.

Likely buyers

Mr Cushnahan and Mr Coulter went on to contact Brown Rudnick partner Tuvi Keinan in late 2012 with a plan to sell all of Nama’s Northern Ireland loans. He approached three likely buyers, one of which was Pimco.

That company approached Nama in autumn 2013. Mr Cushnahan resigned from the Northern Ireland committee in October that year. The agency then put the loans up for sale in early 2014.

Pimco was poised to buy them when it backed out in March 2014 after telling Nama of the fee agreement involving Mr Cushnahan. Nama then sold the loans to Cerberus.

The Government has appointed retired High Court judge John Cooke to investigate the sale. In the North, the National Crime Agency is continuing an investigation.