C&AG report Q&A: So what is it about and what now?

Political reporter Fiachra Ó'Cionnaith breaksdown the 'Project Eagle' report and gives us an insight into what is to come.

C&AG report Q&A: So what is it about and what now?

What is this about?

Cabinet yesterday agreed in principle to set up an investigation into long-standing allegations surrounding State property firm Nama.

The central issue involves the sale of 860 properties in Northern Ireland which came under Nama’s control due to the fact the repayments on them became distressed loans during the economic crash.

The properties had an overall value of €5.3bn but were sold for just €1.6bn in a single deal to US equity firm Cerberus amid ongoing and serious financial allegations.

It is alleged the Irish taxpayer lost out on up to €250m as a result of the deal.

What is Project Eagle?

Project Eagle is the case name for this deal.

What are the allegations relating to Project Eagle?

The allegations surround former Nama Northern Ireland advisory committee member Frank Cushnahan.

It is alleged that Mr Cushnahan was due to benefit from a €5m fee if Project Eagle was sold. It is claimed this may have led in part to the properties being sold as a bundle for lower than their overall value, a conclusion Nama rejects, with opposition parties criticising Government and Nama for failing to stop the deal when Mr Cushnahan’s involvement became apparent.

It is separately noted that in January 2015 more than stg£6m was found in Isle of Man account, having been sent without the knowledge of Belfast law firm Tughan’s — involved in both the Pimco and Cerberus deals — by its then managing partner Ian Coulter. In a BBC Spotlight investigation last year, Mr Cushnahan was secretly recording claiming the money was meant for him and to be disseminated to others.

Haven’t I heard about this before?

Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace claimed under Dáil privilege last year that some of the money in the Isle of Man account highlighted by the BBC last year was “intended for a Northern Irish politician”.

It is also the subject of a Northern Ireland Assembly investigation which has been hampered by alleged witness coaching, a UK National Crime Agency investigation and a US Department of Justice investigation.

Why is it news now?

Other than a BBC Spotlight investigation last week allegedly showing Mr Cushnahan receiving stg£40,000 from a developer — a claim both dispute — a C&AG Project Eagle report was signed off on by cabinet yesterday. The document outlines the above issues and alleges the Irish taxpayer ultimately lost out on up to €250m due to the deal.

What happens now?

While Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan downplayed the possibility of a State inquiry at the start of the week, one now looks inevitable.

The C&AG’s findings will firstly go to the cross-party Dáil public accounts committee next week before both Mr Noonan and Nama officials attend public PAC meetings over the next two weeks.

Their findings are likely to feed into the terms of reference for a State investigation into Nama and Project Eagle.

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