PAC told Cushnahan had access to commercial information
Board in North paid towards study of properties used to secure loans held by Nama
Nama has insisted Frank Cushnahan never received commercially sensitive or confidential information while he was a member of the agency’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee. Photograph: Press Eye
Frank Cushnahan, the former Nama advisor at the centre of the row over the agency’s €1.6 billion sale of its Project Eagle loans to US company Cerberus, did have access to commercial information about the organisation’s assets, TDs heard yesterday.
The National Assets Management Agency (Nama) and its chairman Frank Daly insist that Mr Cushnahan, to whom a bidder for the loans Pimco promised £5 million, never received commercially sensitive or confidential information while he was a member of the agency’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee (NIAC).
However, another former advisory committee member Brian Rowntree said that it saw a study of the properties used to secure debts due to Nama and other banks in Northern Ireland that he described as both commercially sensitive and confidential.
“If I was conducting due diligence on behalf of an intended buyer [of Nama’s Northern Ireland loans], I would be smiling if I had a document like that because it would be a clear indication of the potential value of the landbank, and not just of my loans but all the other loans as well,” Mr Rowntree told the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee.
He said the University of Ulster study included details on properties used to secure loans held by Nama and other banks, planning permissions, likely future demand for housing and some future values.
Academics who carried out the study had to sign confidentiality agreements before getting the information.
“If that is not confidential information, then I don’t know what is,” Mr Rowntree said.
Nama’s board commissioned the report and contributed £20,000 to its cost, following requests from the advisory committee, which believed it needed the information to aid the agency in developing a strategy for the North.
The advisory committee discussed its findings in early 2013 – before an approach from US investor Pimco prompted Nama to put its Northern Ireland loan book up for sale as Project Eagle.
It subsequently emerged that Pimco agreed to split £15 million between Mr Cushnahan, who resigned from the NIAC in November 2013, Belfast solicitors Tughans and US law firm, Brown Rudnick, if its bid for Project Eagle succeeded.
Pimco dropped out after Nama learned of the fee deal with Mr Cushnahan in March 2014.
Tughans and Brown Rudnick switched sides to Cerberus, whose £1.241 billion bid secured the Project Eagle loans the following April.
Nama sought assurances from Cerberus that no one connected with the agency was involved in its bid before agreeing to the deal.
But, a report by the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) says Nama should have gone further when it discovered the conflict of interest and that the sale resulted in a probable €220 million loss to the taxpayer.
In a statement yesterday Nama said that neither Mr Rowntree nor Mr Cushnahan had access to confidential information about debtors.
It said Mr Rowntree confirmed this on the record last year.
Mr Cushnahan had an involvement with seven of Nama’s Northern Ireland-based borrowers, which he declared to the agency.
Mr Rowntree acknowledged that Nama did not give the committee information about individual debtors and it had no decision-making role.
He said he knew nothing about Mr Cushnahan’s deal with Pimco.