Codenamed Project Eagle, the transaction was the largest property-loans deal executed on behalf of taxpayers in Ireland. It was sold to Cerberus Capital Management at the heavily discounted price of €1.6bn and involved 850 properties, including large swathes of new Lagan-side commercial offices in Belfast city centre.
The Irish Examiner has established that the Belfast properties have since surged in value by as much as 20%, suggesting that taxpayers have lost out by €300m in less than a year.
Cerberus won out following an auction of nine bidders, which was whittled down to three, including rival US giant Pimco.
Nama yesterday detailed how it had effectively kicked Pimco off the roster in March last year when it was told by Pimco about a “proposed fee arrangement” with the firm’s main legal adviser, Brown Rudnick.
The arrangement included “fee payments to [Belfast solicitors] Tughans and to a former external member of Nama’s Northern Ireland advisory committee”.
Asked whether the role of Brown Rudnick, a law firm which also advised Cerberus, should have invalidated the sale process, a Nama spokesman told the Irish Examiner that the agency was “fully satisfied” with the process.
A Cerberus spokesman last week confirmed it had hired Brown Rudnick. “We were advised by them that they would be seeking local counsel support in Northern Ireland by Tughans and that they would be paying Tughans out of their fees. Cerberus has never paid Tughans. We want to make it clear that no improper or illegal fees were paid by us or on our behalf.”
Brown Rudnick could not be contacted last night.
Independent TD Mick Wallace alleged in the Dáil last week that £7m in fees paid to Tughans for its work as an adviser on Project Eagle “ended up” in an Isle of Man account. He said those monies were “reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician”.
Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath yesterday told the Irish Examiner that the details emerging about the sale process were matters of “massive public concern”.