Michael Noonan endorses Project Eagle auction process

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and the National Asset Management Agency have strongly endorsed the auction process behind the sale of the so-called Project Eagle loans.

The auction by Nama of a large bundle of distressed loans secured on properties in the North and Scotland which was completed in April 2014 raised €1.24bn (€1.6bn).

It was thrust back into the spotlight last week following two arrests in Co Down amid an investigation by the UK’s National Crime Agency.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is assisting the investigation amid allegations surrounding advisers to the purchasers of the Project Eagle loans.

Speaking in the Dáil in July last year, Independent TD Mick Wallace said over £7m (€8.9m) in fees had been moved to an Isle of Man bank account.

A BBC Spotlight programme reported on new revelations involving the controversy in February.

The Stormont finance committee has held hearings on the controversy. Parties to the deal have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Answering reporters’ questions at a Nama press conference yesterday, Mr Noonan said he did not have any input into commercial decisions taken by Nama but that he had every confidence in decisions taken by Nama.

“The decisions made were a matter for the executive board of Nama and I have full confidence in the decisions they made,” he said.

Nama chairman Frank Daly said there was competitive tension in the process conducted by Nama in selling the Project Eagle loans.

US equity fund Cerberus won the auction after investment giant Pimco had pulled out, or was excluded by Nama, from the process around the middle of March 2004.

Another New York-based-fund, Fortress, was the runner-up.

Asked about Nama’s confidence in the process given that Fortress had apparently first requested details of the Project Eagle sale in the middle of February 2014, Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh said it was not the case that Fortress was a late entrant and that it had joined the process at the same as other bidders.

Mr Daly stressed it was Nama’s position there is an ongoing criminal investigation in the North by the National Crime Agency.

Reviewing progress by Nama on selling down assets, Nama said the agency can “with confidence” say it is on course to generate a surplus of €2.3bn over its lifetime.

Mr Noonan told reporters that any projected Nama surplus could in time be put aside into the so-called ‘Rainy Day’ fund that was proposed in the Programme for Government.

Nama, which started off life with €30bn in senior debt, will have repaid all of that debt by 2018. “Just two years from now, it will be zero,” Mr Daly said.

He said he hoped Nama would be seen as having expedited the removal of liabilities hanging over the State. Since the “bruising years” of the financial crisis, the debate had moved on from ‘ghost estates’ to ways that the agency could help provide housing.

He said its legacy would also be marked in facilitating the building of “world-class” offices in the Dublin docklands.

On contaminated lands in Poolbeg in Dublin, Mr Daly said he did not expect it to affect Dublin City Council’s plans to build 3,000 homes in the area.

Nama said it is on course to help deliver 20,000 new homes across the country.


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