Project Eagle property sale 'corrupted all north's political system'

Mairtin Ó Muilleoir said Cerberus' involvement in the Nama deal was 'shameful'
Brian Hutton, Press Association

Stormont Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir has said Northern Ireland's entire political system has been corrupted by the controversial £1.2 billion Project Eagle property sale.

Mr O Muilleoir further alleged that the north's business world, as well as its legal and accounting professions, has been left tainted by the deal between Nama and US vulture fund Cerberus.

The "race to the bottom" that Cerberus brought to Ireland when it secured the property loan portfolio in 2014 is "absolutely shameful", he told a parliamentary committee in Dublin.

Mr O Muilleoir was being questioned about recent reports that Cerberus paid almost no tax on huge multimillion-pound profits reaped by its acquisition of the so-called Project Eagle portfolio.

A number of investigations are ongoing into the sale of the Northern Ireland property loans by the Republic's "bad bank" Nama, set up to clean up the mess left in Irish banking by the 2008 property crash.

"I think it has been a shame on this land what Cerberus has done - it is absolutely shameful," Mr O Muilleoir told Dublin's Oireachtas Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation committee.

"Ordinary people's businesses destroyed, then picking their winners and chosen few.

"Then, worse than that, corrupting the entire political, business, legal, accountancy profession north of the border, for sure, by their practices."

Mr O Muilleoir said reports Cerberus were able to use an entirely legal loophole - which has since been shut - to pay very little tax on its substantial profits did not surprise him for a minute.

"The only thing that surprises me is that they paid any taxes - even a thousand euro - that they paid any tax at all," he said.

"Because that is the values of the race to the bottom they have brought to the business world here."

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly, told the committee that accounts filed in recent days showed Cerberus, whose chairman is former US vice president Dan Quayle, made a taxable profit of £168 million on its Project Eagle property portfolio.

However, it was obliged to pay just £1,596 tax on the profits, an effective tax rate of 0.001%, Mr Donnelly said.

The TD said if the completely legal tax loophole had continued, the Irish exchequer would have lost up to 20 billion euro from vulture funds who have bought up 40 billion euro worth of Irish commercial property assets in recent years.

The Project Eagle portfolio was bought by Cerberus in April 2014.

Another US company Pimco, a leading bidder in the sale, has said it pulled out weeks earlier because it was asked for a fixer payment of £16 million for three parties behind the scenes.

The money was to be shared equally by Belfast businessman Frank Cushnahan, US law firm Brown Rudnick and Ian Coulter, a managing partner of Belfast solicitors Tughans, Pimco previously told a parliamentary committee.

Mr Cushnahan was formerly a Nama adviser on Northern Ireland, on the recommendation of the DUP.

All parties have denied any wrongdoing.

Britain's National Crime Agency, the US Department of Justice and its Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as parliamentary committees in Dublin and Belfast are all investigating the Project Eagle sale.

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