Saturday 10 December 2016

Chinese sought Irish passports as part of £1bn Nama asset bid

Published 20/11/2016 | 02:30

Independent TD Mick Wallace — the politician who has led the charge in pursuing allegations of misconduct in relation to Project Eagle. Pic: Steve Humphreys
Independent TD Mick Wallace — the politician who has led the charge in pursuing allegations of misconduct in relation to Project Eagle. Pic: Steve Humphreys

An English businessman representing Chinese investors who were prepared to spend at least Stg£1bn on Nama's Northern Ireland assets asked the agency's then Northern Ireland advisor, Frank Cushnahan about the possibility of securing Irish or UK passports for them as part of their deal.

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The request is contained in an email the businessman sent to Cushnahan in November 2011 in which he said he had already told the potential investors how he was "pretty sure" they could secure "permanent resident status" either here or in the UK. The businessman added however that this would be "up to the politicians to see if it could be arranged". He described the investors as "severely wealthy".

It is understood Cushnahan assured the English businessman in February 2012 that he was progressing the possibility of securing entrance visas for what he termed the "main Chinese investors".

It is further understood Cushnahan told the English businessman that he had approached an individual with significant political connections to assist with the preparation of the potential investors' applications for entrance visas.

A spokesman for Cushnahan said he had no comment to make "on these or other selective communications relating to legitimate business discussions, which he was satisfied had been bona fide and lawful".

Today, Cushnahan remains at the centre of the ongoing controversy surrounding Nama's sale of its Northern Ireland loan book to US private equity giant Cerberus in April 2014 for €1.6bn. While all parties have consistently denied any wrongdoing in relation to the transaction, code-named 'Project Eagle', it is the subject of investigation by both the UK's National Crime Agency and the SEC in the United States of America. It is also being examined by the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Standards in Public Office Commission, and the Northern Ireland Assembly's finance committee.

Last Thursday, the PAC heard that Cushnahan was to share in a proposed Stg£15m fee sought from a bidder for Nama's Northern Ireland loan book while he was still a member of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee.

The members of the committee heard Cerberus paid a total of Stg£15m to two legal firms for information it believed would aid its bid for Nama's Northern Ireland loan book. Cerberus chief operating officer Mark Neporent told the PAC that US lawyers Brown Rudnick offered information on Northern Ireland developers indebted to Nama, their guarantees, assets and potential plans, which the law firm had as a result of working with Ian Coulter of Belfast legal firm Tughans. Neporent said Cerberus had not been aware of Tughans' links to Cushnahan.

Even as the PAC was sitting, Independent TD Mick Wallace - the politician who has led the charge in pursuing allegations of misconduct in relation to Project Eagle - was introducing fresh claims in the Dail in relation to Cushnahan's contacts with the English businessman who had sought to secure Nama's Northern Ireland assets for Chinese investors in 2012.

Sunday Indo Business

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