The Northern NAMA Scandal - a look at the shadowy world of Project Eagle

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Project Eagle, or Nama's northern portfolio, was landed in March 2014 by American private investment firm, Cerberus. If this sale has done anything, it has proven that good old fashioned political and economic corruption is not an exclusively American affair.

Nama, oftentimes referred to as the south's "bad bank" - as if there are any good ones - was set up in late 2009 as an attempt by the southern government to try and deal with the property loans issued by Irish banks.

During the so-called "Celtic Tiger" the Irish property sector experienced a massive boom - a boom which came to a sudden silence when the banking crisis hit in 2007/2008. It was no secret that the banks, who had lent the money to the property developers, were in trouble when the properties weren't selling let alone being completed.

In the early hours of the morning on the 30th September 2008, the Irish Government bailed out the banks to the tune of €440bn (a multiple of the annual income of the country). This was done to try and stop the fleeing of deposits from the banks.

Once again the bankers were on the pig's back, the government had bailed them out, payments and the money-transmission systems of the banks continued to operate, and the working class would pay for their partying.

Without the guarantee, the cost of the recovery certainly would not have been as high as what it was and it is likely that Nama would not have been created.

Now that the government had essentially nationalized the banks they needed to come up with a way to deal with their bad loans. So under Nama, the government bought the loans (worth €77m) for €47m and instead of giving the banks the €47m in cash for the loans (which they did not have) they issued government bonds, with an interest rate or coupon of 1% instead. The banks could then borrow money from the ECB or other lenders by presenting the bonds as collateral for whatever amount they wanted to borrow.

Among the portfolio that Nama had acquired was Project Eagle, or the Northern portfolio, which comprised 850 assets with a face value of £4.5bn. In March 2014, Cerberus, an American private investment firm, landed Project Eagle for the neat little price of £1.3bn - a loss of €200m to Nama, which the Irish taxpayer will have to make up.

In May 2010 the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee was established "to allow Nama to be given a better understanding about the circumstances in Northern Ireland that were affecting the business community, the economy as a whole, and indeed some of the issues affecting the borrowers who had assets that were held by Nama.” Its role was to make recommendations to the Board of Nama concerning its strategy related to northern assets and to provide an analysis on that strategy.

The DUP's Sammy Wilson is said to have pressed Brian Lenihan, the south's late Finance Minister, to appoint the businessman, Frank Cushnahan, to the NIAC.

In September 2013, the US Law Firm , Brown Rudnick, approached Nama and said that Pimco, a US company, wanted to buy the Northern loans in a closed transaction. Despite this, Nama pursued an open auction approach.

In late 2013 Cushnahan stepped down from the NIAC and in early 2014 Nama received a letter from the Principal Private Secretary to Peter Robinson which apparently summarised "an agreement between Pimco and the NI Executive" for Pimco to agree to an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to certain conditions with the NI Government. A letter which, for some reason, Nama ignored.

Just two months later, in March, a few weeks before the sale, allegations came out of a "proposed fee arrangement with Brown Rudnick includes also the payment of fees to Tughans and to a former external member of NIAC”.

Pimco went on to name Cushnahan as the ex-NIAC member, and to state that Cushnahan, Tughans and Brown Rudnick were to paid £5m each as a "success fee", while the working class south of the border are crippled with the debt of the bankers.

Nama's board met as a result of this revelation and agreed that this warranted the removal of Pimco from the bidding process. Cerberus then went on to make the winning bid in early April for the portfolio.

When Ian Coulter unexpectedly resigned in January 2015, as managing partner of Tughans, the law firm heavily involved in the sale, suspicion was raised and in July, Mick Wallace, the Independent Wexford TD, claimed that £7m that was in an offshore account was earmarked for a NI politician. It just so happens that Ian Coulter left Tughans after a dispute with the partnership after he transferred £7m to an Isle of Man account. It is also worth noting that Cushnahan shared an office space with Tughans.

It then emerged that a total of five people stood to earn money from the sale: Frank Cushnahan, Andrew Creighton, David Watters, Ian Coulter and our very own First Minister, Peter Robinson.

It is believed that Robinson is the politician that the £7m that Coulter transferred to an offshore account was earmarked for.

This allegation is further fuelled by the fact that 10 days before the Cerberus sale Robinson met with former Vice President of the United States and "key player" of Cerberus, Dan Quayle. Simon Hamilton, the then finance minister and Ian Coulter were also present at the meeting.

This was in fact, a secret meeting, no media were made aware of it - there was no "First and Deputy First Minister meet with Representative from US Firm Cerberus" in the media. Not to mention that it was not processed through OFMDFM meaning that the Deputy First Minister would not have been made aware of it.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) is currently leading an investigation into the sale after these allegations came to light.

Last Wednesday, Robinson appeared before the enquiry to deny the claims made against him.

We will have more on the enquiry as it develops but for now, let's examine the evidence. Robinson is a man who is quite happy to cut away at budgets in the North, cuts that mean empty bellies and peopleless homes. Cuts that mean that the most vulnerable in our society will suffer even further. Last year, he and his party attempted to expel LGBT+ people from society through the mechanism of a so-called "conscience clause".

This is a man who takes pleasure in the pain of others; while the working class suffers for the recklessness of a few bankers he had the chance to earn a few quid off of our suffering, is it in anyway possible that he didn't take it?

Words: Fionnghuala Nic Roibeaird

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