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Project Eagle report delay

A report into the sale of NAMA’s Project Eagle, originally due to be submitted to the Irish Government in June 2018, has been granted a further extension until March 2021.

A much-awaited report by the NAMA Commission investigating the sale of the £4.5 billion northern property portfolio named Project Eagle for £1.3 billion was expected to be submitted by the end of last year, after a series of extensions, but will now not be published before March.

The NAMA Commission of Investigation, established in June 2017, on submitting its ninth interim report, pointed to “a number of developments” since its eighth report which gave the 2020 target, including the pandemic’s impact on work collaboration and the emergence of new evidence.

The new evidence, which has yet to be heard, is to come from an individual who had previously declined to assist the investigation.

The Commission, which is headed by retired judge John Cooke, is investigating the bad bank’s sale of a portfolio of some 850 properties in Northern Ireland which had an estimated original value of £4.5 billion but was sold for £1.24 billion in 2014.

The 70 per cent estimated haircut on the sale of Project Eagle was more than double the estimated 33.5 per cent applied to the entire £77 billion NAMA portfolio.

In his report, Cooke highlighted the existing complications recognised by the investigation that a number of individuals “who would be obvious witnesses as persons directly involved in the sale process” remained outside the jurisdiction of the State.

£4.5 billion: the value of Northern Ireland’s property loans portfolio (Project Eagle) acquired by NAMA

70% the estimated haircut applied to the sale of Project Eagle

£1.3 billion paid by Cerberus for Project Eagle

33.5%: the average haircut applied to the entire £77 billion NAMA portfolio

However, he said that the decision to assist the investigation by the witness represented an important development because of their “central involvement” to some of the matters subject to the investigation.

Plans to take evidence outside of the State were unachievable due to Covid-19 restrictions and instead the Commission has now organised for a detailed statement to be submitted.

NAMA was set up in 2009 following Ireland’s banking crisis to prevent the flooding of the market with stressed assets. The aim was that assets would be managed until market recovery would allow for the assets to be maximised in the interests of the taxpayer. However, the ‘fire sale’ method, with which some assets have been sold, has led to criticism and the eventual revelations around Project Eagle.

The Project Eagle portfolio was purchased by US investment firm Cerberus in circumstances that have been subject to much scrutiny in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Then TD Mick Wallace sparked further investigation into the sale when, in 2015, he used parliamentary privilege in the Dáil to claim that a Northern Ireland politician or party stood to benefit from the sale after a £7 million lodgement into an Isle of Man bank account.

In 2015, Dáil Éireann’s Committee of Public Accounts and the Northern Ireland Finance Committee announced inquiries into Project Eagle. Around the same time the PSNI referred the matter to the National Crime Agency (NCA) due to the politically sensitive nature of the allegations and the NCA commenced Operation Pumpless.

In January 2019, the NCA submitted a file to the PPS in Northern Ireland presenting evidence in respect of eight suspects relating to potential offences of fraud, bribery and money laundering.

In August the PPS announced it will prosecute two men in relation to Project Eagle.

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