Lawyers in Project Eagle inquiry to be paid up to €788 a day

No brief fees to be paid as commission of investigation attempts to rein in costs

Mr Justice John Cooke’s commission will pay up to €780 towards the cost of various affidavits in its investigation of Nama’s sale of the Project Eagle loans to Cerberus. Photograph: Alan Betson

Mr Justice John Cooke’s commission will pay up to €780 towards the cost of various affidavits in its investigation of Nama’s sale of the Project Eagle loans to Cerberus. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Lawyers representing witnesses called before the latest investigation of the National Asset Management Agency’s sale of its Northern Ireland loans will be paid up to €788 a day.

The Government appointed retired High Court judge, John Cooke, earlier this year to investigate Project Eagle, Nama’s sale of Northern Ireland-linked loans to US company Cerberus, for €1.6 billion.

A preliminary report produced by Mr Justice Cooke shows that senior counsel representing clients at the investigation will be paid €788.27 a day, with junior counsel getting €394.14 and solicitors €624.

His commission of investigation, as it is called, will pay up to a maximum of €780 towards the cost of various affidavits, that is, sworn statements of evidence made by witnesses.

In certain circumstances, it will allow higher payments for affidavits where they relate to documents that have to be discovered – ie obtained from other parties through the courts – where the material is substantial and relevant.

The report also signals that Mr Justice Cooke and his staff, which includes two junior counsel, want to rein in legal costs. It recommends that, where possible, lawyers should represent more that one party.

In circumstances where that does not happen, the commission will calculate costs as if it did occur. The report also states that its guidelines are definitive.

Instruction fees

“No payment shall be made in respect of brief fees, instruction fees or any other legal costs or expenses, other than those legal costs and expenses expressly specified in these guidelines,” it states.

Mr Justice Cooke will hear evidence in private, unless a witness wants to be heard in public, or the commission is satisfied that it is in the public interest that all or part of what a witness has to say is heard in public.

Nama’s sale of the Project Eagle loans in April 2014 to Cerberus has been the subject of several investigations. A key issue is that former agency adviser Frank Cushnahan was to share in a £16 million sterling fee offered by another bidder, Pimco, if it succeeded in buying the loans.

Comptroller and Auditor General Séamus McCarthy and the Dáil’s Committee of Public Accounts have held their own inquiries into Project Eagle. The UK’s national crime agency is investigating aspects of the deal in Northern Ireland.

Mr Justice Cooke will investigate Nama’s conduct of the sale and its management of the potential conflict of interest involving Mr Cushnahan. The former judge will also scrutinise the part played by former Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, and his department, in the deal.