Nama investor in row with UK watchdog

Michael Keeley, a senior partner in Walbrook Capital, which has taken a 17% stake in the National Asset Management Agency Investment Ltd (Namail) was embroiled in a standoff between the UK Financial Services Authority and Barclays Bank in 2011.

Barclays sold over $12bn in toxic assets to Cayman Island-based firm Protium in 2009. However, Barclays also loaned Protium the money to buy these assets. Mr Keeley was one of the senior executives in Protium.

The British financial regulator heavily criticised the transaction, which was unwound at the beginning of 2011.

Mr Keeley did not respond to queries made by the Irish Examiner. But a source close to Walbrook says that no action was ever taken by the FSA against Barclays over the Protium deal.

Nama said it would not be making any comments about the deal other than the press release it issued yesterday.

Irish Life sold its 17% stake in Namail to London-based WalBrook for an undisclosed sum.

Namail is the special purpose vehicle set up by the Government to enable private investors take a 51% share in Nama. The European Commission ruled in 2009 that the Government would only be able to keep Nama’s debt off the national books if it had a minority stake in the agency.

Nama’s private sector investors included Irish Life, New Ireland Assurance and Percy Nominees Ltd, a nominee of Prescient Investment Managers (Ireland), which was former AIB Investment Managers. The Government forked out $1.3bn earlier this year to nationalise Irish Life, which meant its shareholding in Nama exceeded 49%.

Davy advised Irish Life on the sale. Both companies declined to comment. Nama would not disclose how much Walbrook paid for Irish Life’s shareholding. However, a source close to Nama says Walbrook will receive a dividend for the duration of its investment in Nama and will recoup its initial investment when the state agency is wound up.

Mr Keeley said: “The decision to invest in Namail followed a careful assessment of the outlook for the Irish economy and in particular its property sector, which we believe is now close to stabilisation. Furthermore, we were impressed by the Nama management team and the progress that they have achieved to date. Consequently, we believe that Namail represents an excellent long-term investment opportunity.”

Trinity College Dublin finance lecturer, Brian Lucey, is highly critical of the sale of the Irish Life Nama stake to Walbrook. “We do not know whether we are better off now or on Friday before the deal because there is no transparency around Nama. We don’t know how much Walbrook paid or any of the terms and conditions. We don’t now whether this is a good deal for the taxpayer.”

However, a source close to Nama says it is a positive development because for the first time an international investor has taken a position in the agency.

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