Not for the first time, or indeed the second time, but for the third time today NAMA is flailing about, trying to defend the sale of a property which was not placed on the open market. And this time, the buyer is a NAMA employee who is now according to some reports, an ex-employee. John Mooney in the Sunday Times broke the story this morning – the article is here behind a paywall.
NAMA has already sold two substantial landbanks, both on the outskirts of Ireland’s second city, Cork in controversial circumstances. In the first reported in January 2012, the sale of 125 of land for €3-4m merited a “for sale” sign stuck up in a field. The second – 450 acres sold in April 2012 for around €7m – didn’t even warrant a “for sale” sign and was sold off-market to a private buyer. Despite there being a paucity of transactions in the State, NAMA unconvincingly assures us that it achieved good prices for both sales.
Fianna Fail’s flaky senator Mark Daly has been trying to get a new Bill introduced in the Seanad which would force NAMA to make sure all property for sale under its auspices was publicly viewable and transparent. Alas, his Bill was shot down by parties who have a majority in the Seanad and those same parties failed to propose an alternative.
Today’s news is that NAMA sold a five-bedroom house to an employee. NAMA is reported to be claiming that “at this stage” there is no evidence that the house was sold below market value.
And frankly, were it not for the fact that the property didn’t come onto the open market where its price might have been tested, this would probably not have made the headlines. After all, what is wrong with a NAMA employee using part of his average salary of €103,000 to buy an Irish property?
But yet again, NAMA is on the ropes defending its procedures and says that it has ordered its internal auditors, Deloitte, to investigate the matter. Apparently the focus of the investigation will be whether or not the employee, or ex-employee, disclosed the purchase, which seems a lot like closing the stable the door after the horse has bolted.
NAMA claims generally that it cannot offer its developers’ property for sale as this would mean NAMA was disclosing confidential information – after all, if you borrowed €10m from Bank of Ireland to develop a property which you were now offering for sale, you wouldn’t want Bank of Ireland advertising the fact that you had a loan. What NAMA conveniently overlooks is that these sales will generally mean there is a shortfall or default on the repayment of the loan. And the shortfall is being picked up by you because you are paying for the bailout of the banks. And in those circumstances where there is a shortfall, we want to know that NAMA and the developer did their level-best to get the best price.
So there is little sympathy for the Agency here today, because it might have facilitated the development of procedures to avoid these accusations of chicanery. But the main blame must lie with our legislators – TDs and senators – who have failed to help NAMA demonstrate it is operating so as to maximise the returns from its assets.
UPDATE: 6th August, 2012. The employee at the centre of the above storm is Enda Farrell, a portfolio manager at NAMA who left the Agency in April 2012. It is said that he, together with his wife Alice Kramer bought the property from a NAMA developer, Thomas Dowd (Tom Dowd), an associate of Derek Quinlan. The property is called Ladywell in Lucan west Dublin. It was bought for €1.2m by Tom Dowd “about 10 years ago” and the purchase price “earlier this year” is said to have been €410,000. According to the Irish Independent today “He denied yesterday using insider information to target the house owned by Mr Dowd, saying it was public knowledge that the property was in NAMA. He added that the house was unoccupied and in bad condition, so it was reasonable to assume it was for sale. He then approached Mr Dowd directly.” Sounds fishy because the property is not apparently on the January 2012 NAMA foreclosure list.