Nama launches €3bn loan sale despite watchdog criticism

Nama has shrugged off criticism from the State’s most powerful spending watchdog by launching a €3bn loan sale, the Irish Independent has learned.

The State agency pulled the trigger on the massive sale yesterday, just 24 hours after the publication of a highly critical report by the the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) into the agency’s handling of the controversial Project Eagle sale of Northern Ireland loans.
A Nama insider said the sale had been in the works but indicated the timing would signal ‘business as usual’ at the agency which still has a vast portfolio of loans to sell off or work out over its remaining three years.

Last night, a spokesman for Nama confirmed the so-called Project Gem portfolio of hundreds of property loans had been launched for sale, but said it had been planned for some time.
“This project has been scheduled for some time. We have an important job of work to do and our focus continues to be to secure the maximum return for the taxpayer,” the spokesman said.

But the move is likely to be seen by some as Nama’s effort to shrug off criticism surrounding its Northern Ireland loans.
Project Gem is one of Nama’s biggest ever sales and its scale means it will be targeted at only the biggest global investment funds.

The huge portfolio of predominantly commercial mortgage loans is secured by 392 properties.
The loans were originally taken out by 38 borrowers, who originally owed a combined total of just over €3bn.

The loans are secured mainly on property in the Republic but also in Germany and the UK.
They are likely to be sold at a steep discount.

The properties backed by the loans are a mix of commercial property, buy-to-let residential properties, hotels and development sites. Most are valued at at least €1m each.
On Wednesday, the State’s most powerful financial watchdog said Nama’s response to initial reports of alleged wrongdoing surrounding the sale of its Northern Ireland portfolio came up short – with the agency not even contacting the businessman at the centre of the events to find out what was happening.

It also questioned some valuations used by the agency for the Northern loans.
The Project Eagle case has sparked investigations in the UK and in the US, where prospective buyers were based.

Nama has rejected the C&AG criticism.