Key questions on Nama sale of Project Eagle to Cerberus

Government to launch inquiry into sale after resisting to do so for more than two years

What is Project Eagle?

Project Eagle is the name given to the National Asset Management Agency's Northern Ireland property loans portfolio, which it sold in April 2014 to Cerberus, a US company, for about €1.6 billion.

Why is it the subject of an inquiry?

Questions arose when it emerged that Ian Coulter, managing partner of Tughans, a firm of Belfast solicitors which had worked for Cerberus, transferred £6 million in fees from the deal to an Isle of Man bank account, without his firm's knowledge. He resigned once it was discovered.

Later, a former member of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee, Frank Cushnahan – who had been appointed to the committee on the recommendation of the DUP – was recorded by the BBC's Spotlight programme claiming that the £6 million was meant for him.

Cushnahan also suggested on Spotlight that he had used his influence with a former Nama executive called Ronnie Hanna to ensure the agency didn't appoint receivers to some Northern Ireland companies whose debts it took over in 2010 and 2011.

In a further investigation aired this week, Spotlight broadcast an audio recording of Cushnahan allegedly receiving £40,000 from a Nama borrower.

Critics, including the Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace and the Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty, have claimed the sale process was flawed, potentially corrupted and should be the subject of a commission of inquiry. Wallace has claimed in the Dáil that some of the proceeds of the sale were to be diverted to Northern business and political figures.

This, it has been suggested, is what the £6 million in the Tughans account was intended for.

Wallace's claims sparked an inquiry by the Northern Ireland finance committee and a series of hearings by the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee.

The CA&G was then asked to investigate whether Nama had received the best value for the taxpayer.

The UK's National Crime Agency is also investigating it.

What has it found?

The report says the sale resulted in the loss of €220 million for the taxpayer.

But what it did not and cannot examine is how much the agency could have secured if a different avenue was followed.

It also raises questions about Nama’s judgment. It raises concerns over why the agency did not act when it learned that a member of the Northern Ireland advisory committee was to benefit financially from the sale.

The C&AG says Cushnahan declared his involvement as an adviser to six Nama debtors and to a third party engaged in a joint venture with a seventh debtor.

Loans held by the six debtors represented about half the value of the Northern Ireland loan book.

The report said Nama should have considered the inclusion of Cushnahan, who was a member of the NIAC, in the discussions on the sale when he was acting as an adviser to the debtors.

Nama became aware of the proposed success fee arrangement involved Cushnahan, Tughans and Brown Rudnick in March 2014.

They were also aware the potential payment was in the amount of £15 million to £16 million, to be shared equally.

What are the key political questions arising from the report?

The biggest question is when did the Minister for Finance and the department become aware of concerns over the sale of Project Eagle.

And if they were aware of the allegations what did Michael Noonan do?

What happens now?

Well, Nama has rejected the report’s findings. It is due to appear before the Public Accounts Committee this month.

Subsequent to that, the Government is to launch an inquiry into the sale, despite resisting one for more than two years.

The scope and the structure of the investigation will be decided by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Opposition leaders.

Kenny will have to decide whether to establish a commission of investigation or to appoint a senior member of the judiciary to examine the sale.

The Government will also have to assess whether the examination will focus solely on Project Eagle or whether it should be expanded to other sales.

Any inquiry will, however, be met with difficulty due to the jurisdictional challenges.

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