Irish Republican News · September 10, 2016
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
‘Profit process’ creamed hundreds of millions off property deal


An auditor’s report has found that several hundred million euro have been lost to the 26 County exchequer in a notorious billion-pound property transaction as a recording emerged of a central figure in the deal apparently receiving a bag full of cash in a Belfast car park.

The auditor’s report was requested by the Dublin government after allegations that a Belfast businessman, who had been advising its ‘bad bank’ NAMA, had also been illicitly working for a US company that was seeking to buy the agency’s property portfolio in the north of Ireland.

The National Asset Management Agency was set up in 2009 to deal with underperforming loans held by Ireland’s collapsed banks. Frank Cushnahan, now at the centre of an expanding corruption scandal over secret payments, was originally appointed by former Stormont DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson as an adviser to the agency.

The deal by NAMA with US investment giant Cerberus has been dogged by allegations that former DUP leader Peter Robinson and his son Gareth were involved in the political effort to reduce the price of the transaction.

Cushanahan’s links with the unionist politicians are central to a stalled investigation by British police into the transaction, known as ‘Project Eagle’.

The new report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) in Dublin was commissioned after allegations that seven million pounds in an offshore bank account were earmarked for political figures in the North as a ‘fixer’s fee’.

The still unpublished report finds that ‘shortcomings’ in the process meant that the sale price was inexplicably reduced by hundreds of millions of euros.

The report was drafted before the latest dramatic installment in the scandal, in which the BBC Spotlight documentary aired what it said is a secret recording of Cushnahan accepting a 40,000 pounds (48,000 euro) cash payment from a NAMA borrower.

The recording was allegedly made in a hospital car park in 2012, when Mr Cushnahan was still working as an adviser to NAMA. It is said to be one of several made by County Down property developer John Miskelly as part of a related effort to buy back his properties.

According to the programme, Mr Miskelly allegedly gave Mr Cushnahan 40,000 pounds in cash during a meeting in a meeting in a car outside the Royal Victoria Hospital in August 2012.

Mr Miskelly is recorded as saying: “There’s 40,000 in that and it’s in bundles of two, Frank.”

The programme also claimed that Mr Cushnahan improperly gave Mr Miskelly a note saying what each of his NAMA properties were worth.

Mr Cushnahan and the Robinsons have denied any wrongdoing. A former senior Head of Assets at NAMA, Ronnie Hanna, has also denied wrongdoing after Cushanahan allegedly claimed he had influence over him and that the two men were “as thick as thieves”. A statement from Mr Miskelly to the programme makers said any payments he made have been lawful and legitimate.

Responding to the allegations, the former head of the Dail’s Public Accounts Committee, John McGuinness finally called for an all-Ireland inquiry into NAMA. Mr McGuinness said a “cross-Border effort must be made to get to the end of this, to get to the truth”.

However, the north’s First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster has rejected calls for a cross-Border inquiry, while Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said it should only take place once all police investigations are concluded.

But members of the Stormont opposition parties have sought a more vigorous response.

“If we have this reputation as a banana republic who is going to want to do business in Northern Ireland,” said UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, who suggested the money handed over in the hospital car park was merely a “deposit” for a larger sum.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called for an “immediate and comprehensive investigation through whichever avenue has the best chance of achieving truth, transparency and justice.”

He said “urgent answers” were needed from the former First Minister Peter Robinson and Sammy Wilson, and that there were also questions for Sinn Fein about why it had made no objection to the transaction. “There appear only two possibilities - they were either negligent or they were silent,” he said.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams TD, said his party had consistently called for a Commission of Investigation in Dublin into “Project Eagle’.

He criticised the Fine Gael led government and Fianna Fail who he said “are lurching from one financial scandal to the next and their consistent response is to stall and avoid any investigation.

“The government must publish the NAMA review and establish a Commission of Investigation into the selling of the NAMA loan book without any further delay. Anything short of that amounts to the continual cover-up of the waste on hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money.”

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© 2016 Irish Republican News