Cantillon: Nama governance called into question

Growing controversy over sale of Northern loan book raises serious questions about governance at Nama

Ian Coulter, a former managing partner of Belfast law firm Tughans

Ian Coulter, a former managing partner of Belfast law firm Tughans

 

The growing controversy over the sale of its Northern Irish loan book raises a number of very serious questions about governance at Nama as it canters towards the finish line.

It emerged yesterday that Pimco has a rather different interpretation of the events that led to its withdrawal from the bidding for Project Eagle.

The US fund manager claims that it bailed out after being approached by third parties for payments to help with its bid.

It claims it gave the identities of the third parties to Nama.

So far, only two of them have emerged in the public domain, Ian Coulter, the former managing partner of Belfast law firm Tughans, and Frank Cushnahan, a former member of Nama’s northern advisory board.

The question that now arises is whether the alarm bells rang sufficiently loudly in the Treasury Building when Coulter and his firm popped up in connection with the rival and ultimately successful bid from Cerberus.

It looks as though they did ring – Nama sought an assurance from Cerberus that it did not make any payments along the lines of those sought from Pimco.

But that really only serves to raise the question as to whether that amounted to a sufficiently robust response or was it just and exercise in backside covering as Nama sought to keep the deal on track?

It is a very serious matter because, at its heart, lies the integrity of the bidding process and the way Nama – and by extension the State – does business.

The potential for litigation is high. The other bidders will have more than a passing interest in what emerges over the next few days.

If Nama is found to have dropped the ball on this one, the result will be a significant blemish on its hard-won reputation.

It will also play into the hands of its many critics who, up until this point, have by and large been confounded.

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