Do you ever feel that you are out of the loop? No sooner have you got your head around the political situation in the Middle East when suddenly there’s something happening in South America or one of the African countries.Then something happens in America or Putin invades some country and you’re caught on the hop again. Is that the way most people feel? You know, you take a few days off or go on holidays and some big scandal breaks out when you’re away and you spend the next week trying to catch up .Whaddayamean Brad and Angelina are getting divorced? When did that happen ? The last time I talked to Brad , everything was just hunky -dory .Sure , he was tripping over children all over the place , but everything was just ,Jake!
Well …that’s the way I felt about this whole NAMA business. One minute it was unheard of and suddenly everyone was an expert on it. For Chrissakes , even Wee Jamie Bryson was right there in the mix with all the details . What was that all about ? Why would Wee Jamie give a fuc…?
That fact alone should make it a thing of interest.What was in this thing for Jamie, eh?
Anyway …after reading all the news items and trying to wade through the economics of it , I was really none the wiser. It was all just bits and pieces .I’ve a problem with economics anyway.I’ll admit it.There….I’ve said it .I’m one of these awful creative types with a lofty abhorrence ofdirty gelt…you know moolah, lettuce ….okay M-O-N-E-Y, MONEY, MONEY; that dirty stuff that makes the world go around. It is dirty you know.I once ran a shop and I can tell you now, that money stinks. I mean it really stinks . You open that till to check the float ,first thing in the morning and you have to get the can of air-freshner out . It’s as if someone was muck-spreading in the fields. It’s filthy stuff. So ,although I like to have some of it in my bank account for groceries and the like ,I don’t like to think of it too much and I’d prefer leaving it to the bean-counters and accountants.I know , it ‘s my fatal flaw…my kryptonite , if you like. Money has always been the worry for philistines but it doesn’t spin my personal wheels. That’s why the NAMA affair caught me on the hop and I’ve been trying to catch up ever since.I’ll bet that I’m not alone though.I’d say if you went out into the streets with a microphone and asked fifty people what this NAMA business is all about , you ‘d get plenty of puzzled looks in return.
So I thought to myself ….there has to be a story here and so I went lookimg for it , thinking all the time that my eyes would probably glaze -over before I got to the end of it. Yours might too , but fight it and read on……
So this is what I’ve studied up and what It appears to be all about ,in my “NAMA FOR SLOW-LEARNERS” ,if like myself ,you feel that you’ve walked in half-way through the film ;all set out in easy chunks and numbered paragraphs :
1. NAMA is the National Asset Initiative Agency which was aimed at sorting out the Irish banking system which was in disarray because of property developments between 2003 and 2007. Brian Lenihan, the finance Minister in the Republic of Ireland, announced it in 2009 in an emergency budget.The property market was already in uproar .
2.With NAMA Allied Irish Bank, Bank of Ireland, Anglo Irish Bank, Irish Nationwide are being paid at discount rates for all their property-related loans over €5million, whether they were good loans or bad. Irish Life & Permanent did not have loans for Nama.
3. It works because banks can reduce the value of their “loan books” ….some € 80 billion … by selling them to NAMA at half the price of their original paper “worth”.The State is then giving the banks money to fill up the coffers again and allow them then to give out loans back into the economy.
At this point , you might ask yourself whose money they they are using .It looks like it’s “the man in the street’s” money, doesn’t it?
4.The money is being offered in eight “stage -payments” ,much as you’d get if you were building a house.(You know …one chunk when you get the footings in…one chunk when you reach sill-level …and so on).They appear to be half-way through the process at the moment. The first chunk was handed to the ten biggest property developers :Liam Carroll, Sean Mulryan, Derek Quinlan, Joe O’Reilly, Bernard McNamara, Michael O’Flynn, Gerry Barrett, Treasury Holdings (Richard Barrett and Johnny Ronan), Joe, Peter and Michael Cosgrave and Gerry Gannon.
5. NAMA paid €7.6bn for €15.3bn of loans in the first instance…….a half -price bargain!
6.The second lot was €13billion. which was to be paid out to 23 other smaller developers.
7. Further down the food-chain many greedy professionals ,such as lawyers and doctors had gotten themselves enmeshed in property syndicates, investing lots of spare or borrowed cash in property ,hoping to make huge future property profits, before the financial crash laid waste to the vaue of those properties. About fifty of these ,whose investments have tanked will have €11billion of their loans taken over. Isn’t that grand for them, eh?
8. The money for all this is coming from State-backed NAMA bonds.Some , €10.4billion has been handed out to banks to improve their cash position on paper.In other words they wouldn’t look too good financially inless the government shored- up their books with a bit of extra dosh to make them look better than they really are. …a bit like giving them botox….faking it!
9. NAMA weren’t a charity.They expected to eventually make make a profit of €4.8billion profit on the whole deal, but it subsequently found out that that figure was based on false information that the banks had gulled them with….Sneaky eh? Those tricksy Irish bankers !…You’ve gotta laugh! It now figures it might lose €800million , but in reality ,it will probably make a piddling €1bn profit instead of it original €4.8billion estimation.Many doubt any of these figures now.Well you can see why ,when everyone is telling fibs, eh?
10. How is Joe Citizen affected by all of this? Well, for one thing his taxes are being used to pay for the Anglo Irish Bank to the tune of €22.3billion ; the Irish Nationwide got €2.7billion; the Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland got €7billion between them and the EBS has received €875million.
11.The banks have been described as “dishonest, disingenuous and deluded” by the Department of Finance and by Brendan McDonagh, the NAMA boss. The banks, even after they brought the country to its knees, “sought to mislead and give the Government the run-around.”You can see why the man-in -the -street might have reservations.
12. NAMA now controls loans on hotels, housing estates, shopping centres and a variety of development sites right across Ireland, north and south.They also have holdings across the UK and Europe and include part -ownership of the iconic Battersea Power Station (You know …the one on the cover of the Pink Floyd album).It has the power and legality to buy every single land and development loan from the five main banks across Ireland , even those who are doing well and who do not wish to be involved, which means that by default NAMA have a substantial foothold in the north of Ireland too ,which has involved that specific political class; which is where our local interest lights up and the story takes an unholy twist.
13. “Project Eagle” is the name given by NAMA to the sell-off of its entire Northern Ireland property portfolio. This consisted of over 900 properties, fifty per cent of which were in Northern Ireland but most of the remainder were located around London.
14. Frank Cushnahan ,a member of NAMA’s advisory committee, was closely associated with ex-First Minister , the Democratic Unionist Party’s, Peter Robinson.He was NAMA’s main- man in Northern Ireland.it appears he was recorded on tape accepting £40,000 from John Miskelly , a developer whose assets had already been consumed in the NAMA takeover.This money appears to have been a sweetner of sorts to help Cushnahan sort out Miskelly ‘s problem.The taped conversation appears to catch Cushnahan sitting in his Jaguar, accepting the cash in a bag .It’s obviously a clandestine deal ..a typical “brown-bag” , under -the -radar affair. He asks ,”Nobody else knows ,now?” …and again “Nobody?”. It appears he need some reassurance at this point.In response Miskelly re-assures him….“Don’t worry, I’ll work with Ronnie…. See, the great thing is we have Ronnie.”
The “Ronnie” in question was Ronnie Hanna, a former senior Ulster Bank official who was now working as head of assets recovery for NAMA. It was a bit like having a fox in the chicken coop as far the Irish taxpayer is concerned .He was supposed to be getting the very best deal for them from the property crash and here he was accepting money from one of the participants, who’d had their assets confiscated. He denied any culpability in any case. There is a complex connection of relationships going on inside Project Eagle involving politicians such as Sammy Wilson and property developers on projects in Northern Ireland.The nub of it is that some developers who were going bust anyway from previous poor business decisions were in effect, saved by NAMA at tax-payers expense. They should really have declared bankruptsy or did the usual thing of signing the business over to the wee wife but they were caught on the hop.
The brothers John and Michael Taggart names came up in the mix.
15.Sammy Wilson , the DUP’s Finance Minister had lobbied NAMA about a huge, potentially 700 -unit strong , housing development east of Belfast called “Millmount Village” .About 90 well-appointed houses had been built and “Lagan Homes” announced, in September ,that the new phase of the £120 million development was starting. Originally owned by the MAR Group which included Noel Murphy and Adam Armstrong, they unloaded it quickly and it was sold to the Taggarts brothers for £96 million , financed by the Anglo Irish Bank. The Taggarts went bust shortly after this and the site came under the control of an Anglo Irish administrator who along with the Anglo Irish Bank agreed that the Lagan Homes group would be the site developers.Lagan Homes is owned by the Kevin Lagan who has been already involved with the same Noel Murphy (Lagnar Properties)who was in the original MAR Group which I’ve already mentioned earlier.
( Yes …I know …it is crucial that you read that last paragraph again!)
16. At this moment Peter Robinson’s,(then First Minister) son Gareth Robinson, enters the picture. He had been a DUP councillor for Castlereagh and had owned a “company” called Verbatim Communications , which seems to have been just him, alone.As Sammy Wilson lobbied for Lagan Homes, either his or Gareth’s expertise were successful in getting NAMA to release 39 million to get the Millmount development going.
17. The waters begin to muddy and things really get interesting when there was an attempted buy-out of all the Northern Ireland assets under NAMA’s control .Sammy Wilson apparently received a letter in 2013 from a US law firm called “Brown Rudnick”, specialists in fund managers, banks and governments’ finances.The lawyer’s letter said it had two clients ,both interested in the NAMA Northern Irish Loan book…which was what the property portfolio was known as.It seemed a bit odd that the same firm would negotiate for both of it s clients at the very same time … on the same deal …
You’d ask yourself how this man-in -the-middle could possibly cut the “best” deal for both clients at the same time …How would that work? Still…… it was stated that one of the clients was well known to NAMA already and it was committed to the potential deal.
18. It was later established that one of the clients was Pimco(Pacific Investment Management Company), a Californisn concern with assets worth $1-5 trillion. They opened the bid on Project Eagle. Brown Rudnick clients(or very possibly only one client masquerading as two) wanted a fast , cash -only deal.Of course there was the queer kink of this business that control over all of this did not rest in Northern Ireland , but in the Republic of Ireland ,so it is odd that Sammy Wilson was even approached as the Go To Guy at all . Shouldn’t the potential buyers have approached NAMA directly?
It makes you wonder and ask questions , but in the event, Sammy Wilson wrote to the Minister of Finance in the Republic of Ireland and “shared” the letter, mentioning as he did that he’d already met the two potential investors. I’d imagine that bells might have started ringing south of the border at this point.
18.It took Michael Noonan the Republic of Ireland’s Minister of Finance a good month to get back to Sammy Wilson by all accounts and he suggested , possibly with some irony ,that it would be best for any interested parties to contact NAMA directly and they should be made aware that the properties were supposed to be marketed openly and not in some behind the doors “fire-sale” deal.
19. Pimco , who didn’t really want a n open contest with anyone else bidding at all , wanted a quick , secret deal, eventually went ahead with Brown Rudnick anyway and a Belfast law firm called Tughans was brought in .It submitted its first bid in December 2013 and stated that it was willing to spend between £1.1 billion and £1.3 billion for everything.NAMA’s response was naturally enough , to play a little hardball and say that the higher bid was not enough and they would only accept offers over that figure.Pimco also set aside £15 million as a “success fee” to be paid to the the two law firms and Frank Cushnahan(Peter Robinson of the DUP’s friend) if the deal went through.
Mr Cushnahan had by this time , oddly ,you might think, already resigned from his position in NAMA just a few weeks before the first bid ….and strangely enough , was now an advisor for Pimco.Mr Cushnahan was to get a third of the £15 million as a sweetner; a cool £5 million.
You might want to read that paragraph again too.
20.It seems that there was great support for the Pimco bid with the government of Northern Ireland right across the board.Sammy Wilson had by 2014 been succeeded by the DUP’s Simon Hamilton as Minister of Finance.In a recorded call , which is still on file, between the North and the South. Frank Daly the NAMA chairman was told that both Peter Robinson (DUP) and Martin McGuinness(Sinn Fein) supported the deal.There is a record of this in Dublin by all accounts.While all of this was happening nine other bidders were told by NAMA that they were genuinely in with a chance.There were the usual drop-outs of course and the number was evntually whittled down to three bidders..These were Pimco, Fortress and Cerberus.
21.Things get even more interesting at this point, because there was a red- alert and alarms started going off. In this case there’s the little fact any American -based company involved in such international trading ,has to keep a weather -eye on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act(FCPA). This enables American law-enforcers powers against bribery. Simply put , it prohibits foreign officials receiving any advantageous benefits which might benefit the giver.Something like this would ring loud bells in the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the £15 million proposed “sweetener” set them off jangling. At this point either Pimco jumped, or were possibly pushed by NAMA. in any event the deal fell through. You can imagine the scramble, eh?
22. Pimco ‘s story will be fleshed out in due course and some might even want to write a book or make a glossy film about it, but within days of its departure its bidding “rival” Cerberus was declared the winner within weeks with a bid o£1.241 billion.They also seemingly retained the very same legal teams that Pimco had used..The question is who inside Pimco was willing to pay £5 million to Mr Cushnahan who had a vested interest in the deal in the first place? Given these doubts there is also some interest in the chairman of Cerberus who just happens to be Dan Quayle the former US vice- president.He’d alreadyvisited Belfast in 2014 to sweeten local politicians for his own company’s bid..Given Quayle’s background ,was he abusing his office by acting unfairly?The FBI are curious, anyway….and so am I now!
23. So far ,it has all the makings of either a great political thriller or a gold-mine for conspiracy theorists.Why did Cerberus not use its own legal team instead of hiring the same people as Pimco?…and why was that team paid an extraordinary £15 million for a couple of weeks’ work?Another thing is the concern that it might not even be legal to take on Pimco’s legal experts without Pimco’s permission . That’s just a bit too odd too.
24. Some of the £15 million that Pimco originally promised was still paid even thought they bailed out.The Belfast legal firm ,Tughans, got half of it anyway. The firm kept £1-5 million of it and Ian Coulter of Tughans banked £6 million of it in an Isle of Man bank.Mr Cushnahan reckons that it’s really his money and it was for him alone .When the money was revealed, Ian Coulter resigned from the Tughans law firm and jacked in his job as a solicitor.He subsequently was appointed to five different boards in the previously mentioned Lagan Builders Group ,as if to complete the circle.
This story could run and run , but I doubt anyone will ever get any satisfaction from any of it, except as an entertainment of sorts .Like I said earlier , anything to do with money or economics usually makes my eyes glaze over, but now that I have a greater understanding of the greed and shenanigans on offer in this particular story, I have a greater appreciation of the venal hypocrisy which purports to be the driving force behind the professional and political facade.
I think I’ll go and watch “The Wolf Of Wall Street “again….