Business Irish

Thursday 27 October 2016

Probe of Nama's Project Eagle sale stalled as inquiry snubbed

Key figure Cushnahan 'disengages' from co-operating with Stormont investigation, writes Simon Rowe

Simon Rowe

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

Frank Cushnahan
Frank Cushnahan

A key figure at the centre of a probe into Nama's controversial €1.6bn Project Eagle loan book sale in Northern Ireland has refused to co-operate with the ongoing Stormont inquiry.

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Businessman Frank Cushnahan, a former member of Nama's Northern Ireland Advisory Committee, has "disengaged" from co-operating with the committee investigating claims that he was to receive a £5m (€6.7m) 'fixer's fee' from US investment fund Pimco if it was successful in acquiring the portfolio.

The Project Eagle portfolio sale by Nama has been dogged by controversy following allegations by TD Mick Wallace that £7m in an Isle of Man account was destined for a Northern Ireland politician.

The deal has been the subject of parliamentary probes on both sides of the Border, as well as an ongoing investigation by the UK's National Crime Agency.

In the latest twist, solicitors for Mr Cushnahan have launched a savage attack on the Stormont committee by questioning its impartiality and accusing members of "pre-judging" its client.

In correspondence sent to the chairman of the Northern Ireland Assembly finance committee, Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay, Mr Cushnahan's solicitors accuse members of being "determined to undermine and prejudice the fairness of the investigation involving our client and any court hearings that may ensue thereafter".

In a strongly worded letter, Mr Cushnahan's solicitor Joe Rice accuses committee members of having "pre-determined issues against him, without having concluded your investigation".

It concludes by saying that Mr Cushnahan and his legal team are not confident in the committee's ability to conduct a "fair investigation" and therefore "will not be engaging further with you and your committee".

The letter, which has been seen by the Sunday Independent, was sent to the committee on December 22. The committee, which is in recess, has not yet responded.

Pressure has been growing on Mr Cushnahan in recent weeks after he missed a December 18 deadline imposed by the committee to reply to 39 questions issued to his solicitors concerning his role in the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland's debt book.

Mr Rice insisted this was "an artificial deadline" and cited the ill health of his client as a mitigating factor. Mr Cushnahan is believed to have suffered a heart attack in September of last year.

Mr Cushnahan also has not yet replied to a letter from Nama chairman Frank Daly, who wrote to him in November asking why he had not disclosed investments and business links which may have presented a conflict of interest at meetings of the Nama Northern Ireland advisory committee.

In his letter, Mr Daly asked Mr Cushnahan about his meeting with Pimco in May 2013, while he was still a member of the agency's committee, to discuss a sale of its loans, and questioning him about his shareholding in one of Nama debtors, the Graham Group.

Advisory committee members were obliged to disclose their investments and other interests at each meeting.

"I would also invite you to provide details of any other meetings you had with Pimco or other parties relating to the possible sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan portfolio and details of your relationship with Pimco or any other bidder in this respect," Mr Daly wrote in his letter.

Mr Rice said: "Mr Daly's letter will be replied to".

Mr Cushnahan has firmly denied any wrongdoing and is fully co-operating with the ongoing police investigation.

Mr Cushnahan was appointed as an external member of the NIAC by the then Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in 2010 on the recommendation of Stormont finance minister Sammy Wilson.

He remained on the committee until November 2013, when he resigned for personal reasons.

The Nama advisory committee discussed potential purchasers of assets controlled by the agency on at least two occasions prior to the controversial €1.6bn sale of its Northern Ireland loan portfolio. Mr Cushnahan, who later acted as an advisor to one of the bidders, Pimco, was present at those meetings.

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