Nama chose not to “terminate” Frank Cushnahan’s role with the group when serious conflict of interest allegations surrounding Project Eagle first emerged because to do so would have damaged a recession-hit Ireland’s reputation even further.
The State property group’s chairman Frank Daly confirmed the situation during a five-hour Dáil meeting in which he strongly rejected the Comptroller and Auditor General’s conclusions the controversial deal cost the taxpayer at least €220m.
Mr Daly hit out at suggestions his group failed to protect taxpayers interests because it did not remove Mr Cushnahan when disputed “fixers fee” allegations involving him and US firm Pimco emerged.
Facing questioning from Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and Fianna Fáil TD Marc Mac Sharry, Mr Daly said Nama became aware of the situation in a Pimco letter in 2014 but decided not to remove Mr Cushnahan as to do so would impact on the country’s “reputation”. The Nama chairman said Project Eagle needed to be resolved without any controversy as it was the first “major loan sale” by the State property group at a time when the troika was still in place.
It was decided that Mr Cushnahan should remain on Nama’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee, as he was a side figure with no real involvement in the Project Eagle decision.
Under questioning, Mr Daly said claims to the contrary were “nonsense” and that there has been an attempt to “inflate the significance” of Mr Cushnahan.
However, he admitted that if subsequent conflict of interest claims surrounding the former official were known in 2014, he would have sought to “terminate” Mr Cushnahan’s contract.
In a series of repeated attacks on the C&AG, Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh said his report “would not be accepted by anyone engaged in actual loan sales” as it was based on accountancy rules and not the “real-world” need to sell properties when specific deals were offered.
Mr McDonagh’s view was repeated by Mr Daly, who said the decision by Nama to bundle the Project Eagle loans into one deal and tighten the shortlist of applicants was to ensure genuine bidders emerged and that “tyre kicker” bidder would not be encouraged.
Ms McDonald asked if the Nama officials were accusing the C&AG of “incompetence” and argued that, in reality, the decision to sell all Project Eagle loans in one bundle only emerged when Pimco suggested the move, arguing it was the firm’s “creation”.
While admitting he may have “tweaked” some details of the deal in hindsight, Mr Daly insisted Nama obtained the most money at the time for the State and that the only investigations into the case involve individuals who are now unconnected to the group.
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