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Nama chiefs met UK investigators over Project Eagle deal

Nama chairman Frank Daly repeated that the agency does not intend to appear before the assembly finance committee to discuss the Project Eagle sale

NAMA chiefs have met with investigators from the UK’s National Crime Agency to discuss the criminal probe into the scandal surrounding the £1.3bn Project Eagle deal.

An Oireachtas committee heard yesterday that Nama’s chairman Frank Daly and chief executive Brendan McDonagh had met the NCA team “some weeks ago” to discuss the work of the Republic's 'bad bank' and the chronology of the sale.

The NCA launched its criminal investigation at the request of the PSNI in the wake of a claim in the Dáil by Independent TD Mick Wallace in July that £7m put into an offshore bank account linked to the purchase may have been destined for a Northern Ireland politician or party.

Addressing the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Mr Daly stressed that the NCA investigation was “not in any way concerned with the Nama side of the transaction”, which led to New York firm Cerberus Management Ltd acquiring Nama’s Northern Ireland loan book.

“Their focus appears to be very much on the purchase side and what may or may not have taken place in Northern Ireland,” he said.

Mr Daly also reiterated Nama’s stance that it would not appear before the Stormont finance committee to discuss the sale.

He said that while Nama had been “at pains to be as accommodating” with the assembly committee as they “possibly could”, they were accountable to PAC.

However, Mr Daly later confirmed that he would be willing to “certainly discuss” with the Nama board the possibility of having an “informal meeting” with finance committee members in Dublin to discuss their concerns.

Earlier, he told the PAC that he stood over the integrity of the “sale side” of the Project Eagle deal and the fact that the southern taxpayer “got value for money”, saying it had been “conducted in line with best international practice”.

“The implication of many of the allegations is that parties in Belfast either had influence over Nama’s decision-making in relation to Project Eagle and/or had access to confidential Nama information that could have afforded certain bidders a competitive advantage in the sales process.

“Let me make it very clear that no pressure from any source, north or south, political or otherwise, influenced Nama in regard to the commercial decision to sell the loans of Nama’s Northern Ireland debtors or influenced the decision to accept the winning bid from Cerberus,” Mr Daly said.

He also claimed that former Nama advisor Frank Cushnahan, who later served as an advisor for US investment firm and Project Eagle bidder Pimco, had never had access to confidential information. Both Pimco and Mr Cushnahan have denied any wrongdoing.

And Mr Daly denied that Cerberus was in line to make a massive profit from the transaction, saying final profits would total around seven or eight per cent.

However, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald suggested that the situation “screams of conflict of interest”.

Mr Daly also dismissed as a “serious misrepresentation of the facts” allegations made in the Dáil by Mr Wallace that £45m had been paid in fixers fees.

“It is unfortunate to say the least that in some cases those making the allegations appear unconcerned about the reputational or commercial damage that their unsubstantiated allegations may cause to the organisation concerned or to any individuals that they may name,” he added.

Mr Wallace has so far refused to appear before either the Dáil or assembly committee.

Members of the Stormont finance committee were in the public gallery when officials from Nama addressed the PAC yesterday.

Members of both committees also met in private session for "an informal hearing".

Finance committee chairman Daithí McKay expressed frustration at the “regrettable” continued unwillingness of Nama to appear before its members.

After appearing before his southern counterparts, the MLA said the cooperation of the two committees continued to be “valuable in shedding light” on the events leading up to the sale .

“It would be useful to see increased cooperation between the PAC in the Dáil and the assembly's finance committee as we continue to explore this important public interest issue,” he said.

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