Arrests over Project Eagle sale could reveal definitive picture

Details of many characters’ role in Nama’s Northern loan sale have been hazy until now

The Project Eagle sale was one of the largest ever carried out by Nama. The UK National Crime Agency has been investigating claims that business and political figures were to benefit from it. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The Project Eagle sale was one of the largest ever carried out by Nama. The UK National Crime Agency has been investigating claims that business and political figures were to benefit from it. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

If legal observers are right, then this week’s arrests in the investigation of the fallout from Nama’s sale of loans in Northern Ireland to Cerberus two years ago for €1.6 billion mark a change of pace for the inquiry, which has been running for almost 11 months.

The UK National Crime Agency has been investigating claims that business and political figures were to benefit from the deal, one of the largest ever done by the State agency.

Those allegations are partly based on the fact that Tughans, one of two law firms that advised Cerberus, subsequently discovered that its managing partner, Ian Coulter, had transferred £6 million in fees from the work to an Isle of Man account without his employer’s knowledge. Coulter resigned from the firm early last year.

Former Nama Northern Ireland advisory committee member Frank Cushnahan was then secretly recorded claiming that the money was meant to pay him for working on the Cerberus bid, even though he was not supposed to have been involved at all.

In that recording, made by BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme, he also suggested that a former Nama executive, Ronnie Hanna, had somehow aided some of the agency’s debtors in staying afloat during the recession.

Hanna did not comment when asked about this but Nama said subsequently that he would not have had the power to do this.

The row over Project Eagle – as the Nama sale was known – has dragged in an entire cast of characters. However, in some cases, details on their exact role in the affair remain hazy.

The arrests may indicate that the police investigation has found some evidence of wrongdoing.

But they could also be a sign that we are going to get a definitive picture of what happened, and that those with questions to answer will get their due process.

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