Noonan talks with Cerberus ‘inappropriate’

Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s meeting with US firm Cerberus just days before the Project Eagle Nama deal was “not appropriate” and implied “special treatment” was being given at the taxpayers’ expense.

A report into the €1.6bn scandal has drawn the stark conclusion and raised serious concerns over how internal Nama conflicts of interest surrounding adviser Frank Cushnahan were tackled — possibly paving the way for another state inquiry.

Despite repeated insistence that the then coalition did nothing wrong during the April 2014 sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland portfolio, a draft version of the Dáil public accounts committee’s 85-page report, seen by the Irish Examiner, has called into question the high- profile deal.

While the report has found no “specific” evidence the troika pressured the State into selling the portfolio quickly, it raises further questions about the Government’s defence by entirely vindicating the Comptroller and Auditor General’s insistence that the “flawed” deal cost the State €220m.

According to the report, which will be discussed by the PAC tomorrow and whose conclusions are key to deciding the scale and scope of a commission of inquiry into the deal:

  • It was “not appropriate” for Mr Noonan, Department of Finance officials, and Nama to meet with senior Cerberus representatives in the days before the sale, as it “gave the perception Cerberus was benefiting from special treatment”;
  • The Project Eagle deal was “marked by poor record keeping, deficiencies in relation to the management of conflicts of interest, a flawed sales process, and an inability by Nama to demonstrate value for money”;
  • The C&AG’s initial finding that the deal cost the taxpayer up to €220m during the economic crisis was “evidence-based, balanced, and reasonable”;
  • The “failure” of Nama to remove then adviser Frank Cushnahan from its Northern Ireland advisory committee, despite the fact he was directly linked to a number of Nama debtors, “was a failing of corporate governance by Nama”;
  • There was an “apparent inconsistency” in Nama’s treatment of rivals to Cerberus which sought to meet officials, while serious concerns have been raised about the record keeping and transparency of Nama;
  • Despite opposition claims that the troika pressured the Government and, as a result, Nama to sell the Northern Ireland property portfolio quickly due to Ireland’s national debt, this was “general” and not specifically related to Project Eagle.

The findings are certain to place further pressure on the Government to set up a state inquiry into the Project Eagle controversy, following hot on the heels of the damaging Maurice McCabe scandal.

Despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny initially promising an inquiry once the PAC scoping exercise concluded following the C&AG report last autumn, Mr Noonan suggested earlier this month that an inquiry was not needed.

A Department of Finance official later denied he was “rowing back” on the inquiry, and simply meant a decision must wait until the PAC report is published.


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