Martin McGuinness says he was ‘in the dark’ over Project Eagle

Sinn Féin Minister to tell PAC that the Nama sale raises ‘serious’ questions

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Photograph: Arthur Allison

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Photograph: Arthur Allison

 

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will tell the Dáil’s inquiry into Nama on Wednesday that he was effectively kept in the dark about the sale of the Project Eagle properties and that there are “very serious” questions about the sale which need to be answered.

Mr McGuinness, who is also Sinn Féin’s leader at Stormont, has said he had no knowledge of, and did not approve, contacts between the Stormont administration, Nama and US company, Cerberus – the purchasers of Nama’s Northern loans, known as Project Eagle.

Nama sold the loans to Cerberus in April 2014 for €1.6 billion.

Claims that Belfast business and political figures were to benefit from the deal have led to investigations by the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the UK’s National Crime Agency.

Statement

According to a statement that Mr McGuinness will make to the PAC on Wednesday, he was concerned when he learned of the extent of the contacts between potential purchasers of the portfolio and the office of the First Minister, then occupied by Peter Robinson.

Mr McGuinness will say that a meeting between Mr Robinson and the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, in September 2013, took place without his knowledge.

Nama had decided that month to sell the loans through an open auction, following an approach from another US company, Pimco.

Similarly, Mr McGuinness will say that a meeting involving Pimco, Mr Robinson and then Northern finance minister Sammy Wilson, earlier in 2013, “happened without my knowledge or approval”.

Former Nama advisor Frank Cushnahan and Belfast solicitor Ian Coulter also attended that meeting.

Pimco chief legal officer Tom Rice wrote to the PAC last week confirming that the company left the Project Eagle auction in March 2014, after US lawyers, Brown Rudnick, sought a £15 million fee.

That money was to be split equally with Mr Cushnahan and Mr Coulter, it was claimed.

Personal guarantees

Mr McGuinness will also tell the inquiry that a memorandum of understanding which was sent to Nama by Mr Robinson’s office, in January 2014, “did not have my consent or approval”.

The memo included a commitment by Pimco to cancel personal guarantees given by property developers in the North that they would repay the loans and write-off some debts – in return for the borrowers’ co-operation.

It did not represent the Northern Ireland Executive’s position, Mr McGuinness will say.

“It has no status and is, frankly, not worth the paper it was written on. It is my view that all of these contacts certainly raise legitimate questions about how Michael Noonan, Nama and others were handling the situation,” Mr McGuinness will tell TDs.

Mr McGuinness was present at a phone call between Mr Robinson and Mr Noonan in January 2014, during which Pimco’s commitments were discussed.

The then first minister stressed at the time that he was not aligned to any buyer of Nama’s Northern Ireland loans.

Cerberus made similar commitments in a letter written to Mr Robinson on March 24th, shortly before its bid for Project Eagle succeeded.