A former employee of NAMA has been before Dublin District Court, charged with disclosing confidential information.
Paul Pugh, 56, from Clontarf Road in Dublin is charged with intentionally disclosing confidential information about McCabe Builders UK, by email to Gehane Tewfik, in a London-based investment company Connaught and Whitehall Capital UK, on 6 June 2012.
He is charged under the 2009 NAMA Act with disclosing the information when not authorised or obliged to do so.
From top: Ronnie Hanna, Frank Cushnahan and Enda Kenny
You may recall how Taoiseach Enda Kenny has repeatedly rebuffed calls from various TDs for a Commission of Investigation into Nama’s sale of its northern Ireland portfolio, Project Eagle.
The calls came after two men were arrested in Co. Down on May 31 in relation to the sale and later released pending further inquiries.
Earlier this month, in the Dáil, Mr Kenny said, “Nobody has presented me with evidence of wrongdoing by Nama in this jurisdiction” and, on another occasion, Mr Kenny said: “Nama has done nothing wrong”.
Just last week, Mr Kenny stated: “I am informed that this loan sell was executed in a proper manner. Despite all the comments and allegations, there are no claims of wrongdoing against NAMA.”
Further to this…
Frank Connolly, in Village magazine, reports:
The arrest of two men in connection with the criminal investigation into the sale of Project Eagle, the single largest disposal of Irish state assets, has discharged a seismic shock through the establishment, north and south.
…Ronnie Hanna, a former head of asset management at NAMA in Dublin and Frank Cushnahan, a former member of the agency’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee were arrested by police who also seized documents and computers during raids on a number of properties in Belfast.
Village has learned that the arrests came just days before the BBC ‘Spotlight’ programme was due to reveal fresh information concerning the role of both men in the Project Eagle saga.
The arrests of the two men by the NCA forced the cancellation of the programme, for legal reasons.
On Thursday, 2nd June, the Irish News reported that Hanna and Cushnahan had been arrested two days earlier by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and were being released on bail “pending further enquiries”.
It was the only news organisation to identify those arrested although, in its report, the Irish Times mentioned the pair as having been previously named in the Dáil by Mick Wallace in connection with the Project Eagle controversy.
… It is utterly wrong to say there is no allegation of wrongdoing against NAMA, when a central figure to its Dublin operation has been arrested, in the North.
The figleaf the Taoiseach and Michael Noonan sought, that there was no taint on the southern operation, has now been blown out of the water.
During Leaders’ Questions, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin again raised the controversial sale of Project Eagle by Nama in Northern Ireland.
It followed Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams calling for a Commission of Investigation into the sale twice in the past two weeks.
Mr Martin said there are rumours that further arrests are on the way in relation to the sale – following the arrest in May of two men in Co. Down on suspicion of fraud offences, by the British National Crime Agency.
They’ve since been released on bail.
In response, Taoiseach Enda Kenny maintained that the sale was “was executed in a proper manner” – echoing his previous responses to Mr Adams.
From their exchange:
Micheál Martin: “The UK’s National Crime Agency is investigating this. There have been two arrests and there are rumours of more arrests on the way. It is being investigated in the United States. The Northern Ireland finance committee has had an inquiry. At the very least, NAMA should have attended that inquiry. It is the biggest sale since the agency was established and there are huge concerns about it. Yet we, in the Republic, seem to have adopted an attitude that there is nothing to see here, that everything is fine on this side of the equation.”
“I put it to the Taoiseach that at the time that PIMCO revealed that people were seeking fees, surely that was the time for the entire deal to be called off, for both NAMA and the Minister for Finance, who was alerted to it, to call a halt to that deal and say there were too many questions about it. It was something from which they should have pulled back. The Irish taxpayer lost out to an extraordinary degree but worst than that, the deal is tainted, of that there can be no question.”
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl: “Has the Deputy a question?”
Martin: “All of this could have been avoided if the Government had not decided to sell such large blocks of assets under NAMA and to force the pace in terms of accelerating the disposal of assets at steeper discounts than were necessary.”
Enda Kenny: “On Deputy Martin’s point in respect of NAMA and Project Eagle, I want him to understand that, as I have said here on many occasions, I am informed that this loan sell was executed in a proper manner. Despite all the comments and allegations, there are no claims of wrongdoing against NAMA. That loan portfolio was sold following an open process to the highest bidder for what it was worth. NAMA paid no moneys to any party on this loan sale against whom allegations of wrongdoing are now being made. Anyone with evidence of wrongdoing needs to report it immediately to the proper authorities, as I am sure Deputy Martin will do if he has information in that regard.”
“The Government and NAMA take very seriously, and why should they not, any accusations of NAMA employees or former employees breaching the NAMA Act.”
Martin: “A consistent thread in the Taoiseach’s replies to various people on this question during the last Dáil and this one is that there has been no wrongdoing on NAMA’s behalf.
Kenny: I said “No allegations of wrongdoing against NAMA”.
Martin: “The allegations are about the deal. That is the point but the Taoiseach keeps almost deliberately ignoring it. The allegations are about the entirety of the deal, its ethics and its rightness or wrongness. Surely, when people heard that there was up to €7 million in an offshore account, it raised eyebrows. Surely, the deal should have been called off when PIMCO alerted NAMA to elements of what was going on and when the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, was himself alerted to what was going on at that stage. There is no point in saying that everything on our side was fine and we have covered our backs, that all our paperwork is clear and clean in the Republic and in NAMA headquarters and the fact that others may have got up to all kinds of activity is of no concern to us.
Ó Fearghaíl: “I thank the Deputy.”
Martin: “That is what has come back to us in regard to this. It is the sense that has come from Ministers, the Taoiseach and NAMA in a very defensive mode. Instead of saying that if something is rotten in the state of Denmark in regard to this deal, it is in our interests to tackle and deal with it.
Ó Fearghaíl: “Thank you, Deputy.”
Martin: “Did it ever occur to the Taoiseach that we should have set up a commission of investigation when the National Crime Agency, the US Securities and Exchange Commission and others were pursuing this? The Taoiseach mentioned the Northern Assembly. There seems to be a sense of a connection and a nexus between politics and all of this in the North as well. That may emerge in the coming weeks.
Ó Fearghaíl: “Deputy, the time has elapsed. Thank you.”
Martin: “I put to the Taoiseach the question of whether he ever asked the Minister of Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, the question as to why the shutters were not pulled down on this deal when PIMCO gave its information to NAMA in regard to third parties.”
Kenny: “If Deputy Martin makes the case, the Government is in no way defensive about this issue. If there is something rotten, as the Deputy says, in the state of Denmark relative to this case, what he is saying is that the process by which this sale was completed was wrong, was not up to standard and was not in accordance with proper procedure. I am informed that the sale was conducted under proper conditions, that it was sold following an open process to the highest bidder for what it was worth.”
Martin: “Someone pocketed €7 million.”
Kenny: “Is that right or is it not right? That is what I am informed. If I am being misinformed here, if somebody has got evidence to that effect, I would certainly like to hear it. The Deputy makes the point that the sale should have been stopped. Where is the evidence that the process that was followed was not open—–”
Gerry Adams: “The €7 million.”
Kenny: “—–was not above board—–”
Martin: “The offshore account.”
Kenny: “—–and was not fair?”
Adams: “There are seven million reasons.”
Ó Fearghaíl: “One speaker, please.”
Martin: “The offshore account and the money paid in fixers’ fees.”
Ó Fearghaíl: “The Taoiseach to conclude.”
Kenny: “In the sale being concluded, the information that I am given, standing here in the position that I hold, is that this was conducted in a proper and open process, and was sold to the highest bidder for what it was worth….”
Meanwhile, last week…
Time for politicians to put up or shut up-SF, FF, Soc Dems & some Indies want NAMA Inquiry. They have the numbers… https://t.co/EcbpYhPCRb
From top: Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil this afternoon
During Leader’s Questions.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams raised Nama’s controversial sale of Project Eagle again with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, calling, again, for a Commission of Investigation into the sale.
From their exchange…
Gerry Adams: “Some of the allegations are shocking. Between May 2010 and November 2013, a member of Nama’s advisory board is alleged to have been charging a fee for advice about Nama. It’s further alleged that the same individual had an unethical working relationship with a senior Nama officer, which gave him access to additional and sensitive commercial information.”
“It is also alleged he was lobbying on behalf of clients to reduce loan repayment demands, and in return he would secure cash payments – so-called ‘fixer fees’ – which were shared with the senior Nama officer.”
“Now when Nama decided to sell its Northern loan book to US vulture fund, Cerberus, this individual was offering to disclose information relating to the value of the loans to a bidder called Pimco. It’s alleged that Pimco discovered that payment of a fixer fee of £15million was requested. This was to be paid if Pimco were successful. Pimco reported this to Nama and withdrew from the process.”
“According to a Sinn Fein freedom of information request, Minister Noonan was updated by the Nama chairman regarding these transactions and it’s still today unclear why the minister did not intervene to exercise his general powers of direction over Nama to suspend the sale’s process until these matters were fully investigated. Taoiseach, if found to be accurate, these are serious allegations of financial corruption and insider trading in which the taxpayer has suffered a huge loss.”
Enda Kenny: “If you want to give me, if you want to give me evidence of why there should be a Commission of Investigation in this jurisdiction, I’d be quite prepared to listen to it.”
“I’ve got, I hear allegations, rumours and speculation but that’s not the basis for setting up a Commission of Investigation for any particular matter. Minister Noonan dealt with the question of a company that was in a tender position here which was not proceeded with when the question of a fixer’s fee arose.”
“Now if you have other information beyond that deputy, obviously, you know yourself, you bring that to the gardaí. But if you produce evidence to me here in the House, as to why a Commission of Investigation should take place in this jurisdiction, when there are legal cases being pursued in Northern Ireland, in where we would not have jurisdiction in the Commission of Investigation set up here.”
“The principal personnel with Nama were in front of the relevant committees here, they gave long and detailed explanations. Nobody has presented me with evidence of wrongdoing by Nama in this jurisdiction and the allegations that you make relate to other areas…”
During Leaders’ Questions, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams raised Project Eagle and the Government’s refusal to launch a Commission of Investigation into the sale of Nama’s northern Ireland loan book, known as Project Eagle.
Mr Adams came after the British National Crime Agency arrested two men as part of its investigation into the sale.
The two men were arrested in Co Down on suspicion of fraud offences and have since been released on bail pending further inquiries.
From yesterday’s debate…
Gerry Adams: “I understand the British National Crime Agency has arrested two people today as part of its investigation into NAMA’s Northern loan book, known as Project Eagle. For years now Sinn Féin and others have raised concerns about the sale of NAMA’s loan books, including the sale and purchase process for its Northern loan book. The Taoiseach and the former Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, have accused the Opposition of conflating the matter. Deputy Joan Burton described it as just a “Northern tale”. I put it to the Taoiseach that it is actually a national scandal and a disgrace.”
“The sale and purchase process for NAMA’s Northern loan book has been the subject of serious allegations. It has been alleged that, as part of a cosy cartel that was in operation, insider trading took place, that payments were made to a golden circle and that illegal fixer fees were paid. This was brought to the attention of NAMA by a potential US bidder, Pimco. NAMA previously claimed that its Northern advisory committee was not privy to confidential information on the sale, but it has since been disclosed that the committee discussed potential purchasers on at least two occasions before the loan book was sold at a huge loss to Irish taxpayers.”
“There are investigations in the North by the National Crime Agency, NCA, the law society and revenue. There was an Assembly inquiry which found the Government’s approach very unhelpful. There are also investigations in the USA by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the FBI and other authorities. However, there is no investigation here. In this State, the Minister for Finance, the Government and NAMA have closed ranks.”
“The chairman of NAMA, Mr. Frank Daly, said he briefed the Minister in full, including on the scandal of a fixer fee of £15 million sterling, which is totally irregular and illegal. Despite this, the Minister failed to suspend the Project Eagle sale process or to inform the office of the First Minister or Deputy First Minister. The Assembly inquiry noted this failure with regret. This is a public interest matter, which must be fully investigated.”
Seán Ó Fearghaíl: “Get to the question please, Deputy.”
Adams: “Tá mé beagnach críochnaithe anois, a Cheann Comhairle. It must be fully investigated to get to the bottom of allegations of wrongdoing and cosy cartels which have cost the citizens of this State millions of euro. Does the Taoiseach not believe it is time for the Minister for Finance to make a full statement on all of these matters to the Dáil?”
Enda Kenny: “The Minister has made a full statement already and there has been quite a deal of discussion at the various Oireachtas committees on the question on NAMA. NAMA personnel at the highest level have responded and given much time on different occasions to discuss these matters.”
“If two people have been arrested, they have been arrested on suspicion of particular charges and I expect that the court system in the jurisdiction in which they were arrested will follow through on arresting them in the first instance. Obviously, it is not for me to comment on the court system of a different jurisdiction. If they have been arrested, I assume that it is for good reason in respect of activities that would be outside the law. I trust that this will see itself through that process and be judged before the courts.”
Peadar Tóibín: “Assumptions.”
Adams: “The Minister for Finance has not made a full statement to the Dáil. It is not just Sinn Féin which has these issues. Others have raised these issues consistently and in a very detailed way. It is impossible to get information from any of the Ministers on issues as serious as this one. The Taoiseach refused to establish a commission of investigation. NAMA is an arm of the State. It is dealing with the people’s money. NAMA is not accountable but it should be. It should command public trust and confidence in the business of securing the best possible value for Irish taxpayers and I, for one, have no confidence that it has done this.”
“I have seen this happen to the Taoiseach in that every so often an issue comes up but for all of his cleverness and skills as a politician, he is like a rabbit caught in headlights. This is a huge issue. There needs to be transparency, confidence and accountability. Why not depoliticise it? Why not simply open it up to those of us in the Oireachtas?”
“The people have suffered grievously because of the kinds of activities involved in selling off what were the people’s assets. Given the mounting public concern across the island, will the Taoiseach now commit to establishing a commission of investigation into the sale of Project Eagle?”
Kenny: “No, I will not. There has not been any allegation of wrongdoing against NAMA.”
Kenny: “The Deputy informs me that two people have been arrested. I assume they have been arrested for good reason. Representatives of NAMA have appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts and have given very lengthy statements. They have been crystal clear and that from their perspective, there is no allegation of wrongdoing against NAMA. NAMA has done nothing wrong. It has been completely in compliance with the law and the conditions it was set up under. Coming in and asking for another commission of investigation about this is not the way forward. There is no allegation of wrongdoing against NAMA and at the highest level—–”
Tóibín: “There is an allegation of incompetence.”
Adams: “There was a fixer fee of £15 million.”
Simon Harris: “Not by NAMA.”
Kenny: “Representatives of NAMA have appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts and have given their statements and answered questions at length on all of these issues, and more than once.”
From left: Frank Daly, Brendan McDonagh and Martin Whelan, of Nama, at the Committee on Housing and Homelessness yesterday
Yesterday, Nama’s chairman Frank Daly, CEO Brendan McDonagh and head of public affairs Martin Whelan appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness.
During their appearance they discussed hoarding, among other matters.
Grab a tay.
Brendan McDonagh: “Another message that is being put out is that we are hoarding land and that if we only released more land into the market, the private sector would avail of the opportunity and build.”
“The reality is that since the start of 2014, in 24 months, we have sold land that could deliver 20,000 units into the private sector. We monitor that land to see what is happening with it. Only about 5% of that land is being built on at present. Members ask why the people who bought it did not build on it.
“Sometimes people might be looking for revised planning or waiting for a new county, area or development plan. Sometimes there might be an issue in respect of densities, a revised planning application and seeking more semi-detached houses rather than apartments, which requires a new planning application.”
“Infrastructure constraints are certainly there. One of the largest issues – from looking at transcripts, we know the committee has discussed it – is people buying land and effectively looking for a higher rate of return. This has to be a big feature.”
Eoin O’Broin: “We also discussed the issue of land. I am aware that, as in the case of the housing units, NAMA does not own land but holds the debts relating to it. However, in the Fingal area – I am sure Deputy Coppinger will know more about this issue than I – one of the problems facing the local authority is the absence of publicly owned land.”
“As part of the social dividend set out in section 2 of the NAMA Act, could the agency transfer land owned by its debtors to the State, either at no cost or a low cost, for the provision of social housing?”
“Mr [Frank] Daly spoke about special development zones, SDZs, and their benefits. The Clonburris SDZ is the last major parcel of development land in the South Dublin County Council area. The majority of these lands, perhaps two thirds of them, are privately owned. I assume the owners of at least a chunk of this land are debtors of NAMA and have a relationship with the agency.”
“Could innovative ideas that have not yet been discussed in the public domain be brought to bear to maximise the delivery of social units in this SDZ?”
Frank Daly: “Section 10 is very clear in that NAMA has a commercial remit and its objective must be to obtain the best financial return for the State.”
“In our reading of the Act, this is its primary purpose and the one which overrides everything else.”
“That is what drives us but we are also driven by a belief that the debt, whether the €32 billion that we started off with or the €7 billion senior debt we currently hold, is a contingent liability on the State and impacts in a greater sense on the State’s standing in the money markets and its capacity to borrow.”
Ruth Coppinger: “The other issue is the hoarding of land which NAMA has been involved in. It is not just me saying it. The Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, has said it in replies to parliamentary questions. It was not until 2014 that NAMA started releasing land for housing.”
“Meanwhile, the housing crisis was building up and NAMA had all this land. It is, therefore, about time that there was an honest discussion about the role the previous and current Governments, in setting up NAMA, have played in allowing housing to become very scarce.”
“For example, in a housing forum last month, NAMA said it had sold enough land for 20,500 units since 2014 “in the most sought-after areas of the capital, the commuter counties of Wicklow, Kildare, Meath and Louth and the cities of Cork, Limerick and Galway”.”
“At the height of the housing crisis and in the areas where the crisis is worse, NAMA has sold enough land for those units. By the way, only 1,100 units have been built on that land, indicating developers have been hoarding land while waiting for house prices and profits to rise.”
“That is the key problem. The private sector is in control of housing in this country and it is being facilitated by NAMA as it is currently set up.”
“I would argue NAMA encourages developers to hoard land and it let a housing shortage develop. I do not have time to give all the quotes.”
“However, for example, a report on a freedom of information request in The Irish Independentlast month shows that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, wrote to NAMA saying it must bring land to market more quickly to stop developers hoarding sites. He went on to say that NAMA was contributing to the problem.”
“Why was that decision taken when even the Minister himself had to intervene?”
“On the social housing spend to date and that projected in the NAMA wind-up, NAMA brags about the €260 million it contributed to social housing but it had a turnover of €34 billion. That is the problem; it is so minuscule.”
“Why has so little been spent on new social housing? I know NAMA’s primary aim is financial return. There seems to be no social element to NAMA whatsoever.”
Daly: “The general point is that it is back to the question about how we interpret our mandate under the Act, the responsibilities we have and what we can do under the Act.”
“I have already spoken about these in response to Deputy Ó Broin’s questions. Short of repeating myself, we have to act in accordance with the mandate and the responsibilities in the NAMA Act.”
“We cannot go outside that. We have to get the best financial return we can for the taxpayer and to do that as expeditiously as possible – that is in the Act as well.
That is a primary driver for us.”
Mick Wallace: “NAMA wrote a letter to the Minister on 28 September 2015, which included the following, “At our meeting with you on 15 September you requested that the NAMA board assess the increased contribution that NAMA could make to residential delivery if it were to be given a new mandate to maximise the delivery of housing in the period to end-2020.” I accept that the Minister for Finance only started to talk about a new mandate in September 2015.”
“NAMA wrote back to him, stating, “During the meeting you stated your endorsement of the board’s objective of redeeming all senior debt by 2018 and the repayment of subordinated debt in March 2020 and you indicated that, in your view, achievement of these senior and subordinated debt repayment targets should take precedence over the provision of funding that would be required for NAMA residential projects in any revised strategy.”
“Am I to understand that NAMA has been strongly dictated to by the Minister for Finance, or am I misreading that?”
Daly: “We are an independent board. Our mandate is the Act. We do engage with the Minister from time to time, and it would be wrong of us not to do so. Generally, we would have a review of our strategy every year.”
“Sometimes he would come along to that and engage with us but at the end of the day the strategy for NAMA, by and large, is that of the board, and we can talk about that right from the beginning.”
A statement from Belfast property developer Gareth Graham.
Mr Graham has settled his court action against US company Cerberus, the firm which eventually bought Nama’s Northern Ireland property loan portfolio, Project Eagle – which had a par value of €5.7billion – for €1.6billion.