Thursday, August 9, 2012

Nama 'veil of secrecy' over deals criticised - The Irish Times - Tue, Aug 07, 2012


THE NATIONAL Asset Management Agency has been heavily criticised by Government and Opposition TDs for brokering private deals and maintaining a culture of secrecy.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said he was troubled by Nama’s practice of selling assets in private deals without the identity of the other party being revealed.

Fine Gael TD for Dún Laoghaire Mary Mitchell O’Connor also criticised the asset agency for surrounding its activities with a veil of secrecy, a phenomenon she said ran counter to the public interest.

Both were referring to the disclosure that a former executive with Nama, Enda Farrell, bought a five-bedroomed house that was part of a portfolio of assets which had been transferred to the agency’s control by developer Thomas Dowd.

When the controversy arose at the weekend, Mr Farrell said he had attended a compliance course at Nama at which it was indicated the purchase of a house under the agency’s control as a principal residence would not breach the code. He said he had acted with probity at all times.

Yesterday a spokesman for Nama said it had no record of giving clearance before, during or after the transaction.

It is understood this relates to both formal and informal clearance.

Mr McGrath said yesterday the former employee’s claim that Nama had given informal clearance must be clarified urgently.

“The reassurance from Nama that it has no record of giving clearance for the specific property purchase by former executive Mr Farrell does not answer the central question,” he said.

“Mr Farrell has claimed he was informed by the agency’s compliance unit that he could purchase a Nama property in a private deal provided it was used as a private residence.

“It would be truly shocking if this proves to be the case, and it would reveal a deeply disturbing culture within the agency.”

He added: “Nama must immediately clarify its policy on agency executives purchasing property under the agency’s control by way of private deals.”

He also said the case raised another troubling question: did the agency know the true identity of those buying properties from it?

“I have brought the issue of Nama selling assets in private deals to the attention of the Minister for Finance in the Dáil but he has defended the practice,” he said.

“With properties under its control underpinning loans of €74 billion, Nama has a critical role to play in Ireland’s economic recovery. It is absolutely essential that the general public can have trust in the agency.”

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said the agency had to be open and transparent with the public about its property portfolio.

“I believe that Nama has a habit of keeping details of property sales closely guarded, making it difficult for members of the public to view and purchase properties in its portfolio,” she said.

“I am very concerned about this practice, and I am calling on Nama to be more open and transparent about how it puts all of its land and properties up for sale.

“It is crucial that ordinary members of the public have full visibility of Nama’s property portfolio and that properties are not just being sold to a select group of people.

“Nama is obliged to get the maximum price for land and property it has acquired. If these properties and land are being sold behind closed doors, then the taxpayer is being short-changed.”

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