Northern Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has said Northern Ireland’s entire political system has been corrupted by the £1.24bn Project Eagle property sale.
He further alleged that the region’s business world, as well as its legal and accounting professions, has been left tainted by the deal between Nama and US vulture fund Cerberus.
The “race to the bottom” Cerberus brought to Ireland when it secured the property loan portfolio in 2014 is “absolutely shameful”,he told the Oireachtas jobs committee. He was being questioned about recent reports that Cerberus paid almost no tax on huge profits reaped by its acquisition of the Project Eagle portfolio.
Several investigations are ongoing into the sale of the Northern Ireland property loans by Nama, which was set up to clean up the mess left in Irish banking by the 2008 property crash.
“I think it has been a shame on this land what Cerberus has done — it is absolutely shameful,” said Mr Ó Muilleoir.
“Ordinary people’s businesses destroyed, then picking their winners and chosen few. Then, worse than that, corrupting the entire political, business, legal, accountancy profession north of the border, for sure, by their practices.”
He said reports Cerberus was able to use an entirely legal loophole — since shut — to pay very little tax on its substantial profits did not surprise him for a minute.
“The only thing that surprises me is that they paid any taxes — even a thousand euro — that they paid any tax at all,” said Mr Ó Muilleoir. “Because that is the values of the race to the bottom they have brought to the business world here.”
Independent TD Stephen Donnelly told the committee accounts filed in recent days showed Cerberus made a taxable profit of £168m on its Project Eagle property portfolio. However, it was obliged to pay just £1,596 tax on the profits, Mr Donnelly said.
The TD said if the legal tax loophole had continued, the Irish exchequer would have lost up to €20bn from vulture funds who have bought up €40bn worth of Irish commercial property assets.
The Project Eagle portfolio was bought by Cerberus in April 2014.
Another US company, Pimco, a leading bidder in the sale, has said it pulled out weeks earlier because it was asked for a fixer payment of £16m for three parties behind the scenes. The money was to be shared equally by Belfast businessman Frank Cushnahan, US law firm Brown Rudnick and Ian Coulter, a managing partner of Belfast solicitors Tughans, Pimco previously told a parliamentary committee.
Mr Cushnahan was formerly a Nama adviser on Northern Ireland, on the recommendation of the Democratic Unionists.
All parties have denied any wrongdoing.
The UK’s National Crime Agency, the US Department of Justice, and its Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as parliamentary committees in Dublin and Belfast, are all investigating the Project Eagle sale.
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