Cerberus paid millions for help 'accessing' Michael Noonan and Stormont ministers, PAC hears

The winner of the controversial multi-billion euro Project Eagle Nama deal paid two firms heavily involved in a previous bid stg£15m for help "accessing" Finance Minister Michael Noonan and "the Northern Ireland executive".

Cerberus paid millions for help 'accessing' Michael Noonan and Stormont ministers, PAC hears

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent

The winner of the controversial multi-billion euro Project Eagle Nama deal paid two firms heavily involved in a previous bid stg£15m for help "accessing" Finance Minister Michael Noonan and "the Northern Ireland executive".

Cerberus chief operating officer, Mark Neporent, made the claim during a detailed Dáil public accounts committee meeting in which he also said the money was provided to access debtor information giving it an advantage over rival bids.

Speaking to the cross-party group, Mr Neporent confirmed that his company received "unsolicited" contact from US legal firm Brown Rudnick and Belfast legal firm Tughan's on March 14, 2014, asking it for stg£15m in return for help in bidding for NAMA's Northern Ireland property portfolio.

Days earlier, rival firm Pimco - which was being supported by Brown Rudnick and Tughan's - had left the bidding process due to revelations then NAMA advisor Frank Cushnahan was to receive €5m if the bid was successful.

Mr Neporent said Cerberus chose within days to pay Brown Rudnick and Tughan's a requested stg£15m for support in its bid in order to access debtor information, block rival firms and - crucially - obtain access to politicians north and south of the border.

"The Northern Ireland executive, people in the Republic. We wanted to be certain we would be welcomed by those stakeholders," he said.

While there is no suggestion of wrongdoing by any politician, Mr Neporent said when asked that the only individuals his firm met in the Republic were Finance Minister Michael Noonan and a member of his staff, Ann Nolan, on March 31 2014 and April 4, 2014.

In Northern Ireland, meetings included those with then DUP leader and first minister Peter Robinson.

The revelation caused significant controversy at today's meeting, with Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald saying the money was "one hell of a fee for two weeks' work".

When it was put to her the sum was also for information on whether the Irish economy was "robust enough" to invest in, she said: "You didn't need stg£15m to make those systemic decisions."

Mr Neporent - which also met NAMA officials the night before it lodged its Project Eagle bid - stressed he was unaware of the controversy surrounding former NAMA advisor Frank Cushnahan's planned success fee for the Pimco deal.

He said while Cerberus was also due to meet with Sinn Féin MLA and Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuinness on April 3-4 2014, Mr McGuinness pulled out because he "was delayed meeting the Queen".

In a statement last night, the Ulster Unionist Party's finance spokesperson, Philip Smith, said the revelations demand answers.

"These latest revelations raise several fundamental questions. Did Cerberus get what they paid for, and if so who did they meet and when, and what was the outcome of those meetings?

"If the accusations made at the PAC are true, it is outrageous law firms were effectively selling access to Northern Ireland's government.

"The longer this sordid affair runs, and the more revelations that come to light, then the more detail we need from [DUP member and Northern Ireland finance minister] Sammy Wilson and [former DUP leader and Northern Ireland first minister] Peter Robinson about their meetings relating to NAMA," he said.

The comments were made after a former NAMA board member John Mucahy described the controversial Project Eagle deal which allegedly saw taxpayers lose out on €200m as a "superb" and "inspired" transaction, adding he was "surprised" by the size of the bids.

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