Sunday 4 December 2016

Businessman withdraws allegations against purchaser of Nama portfolio

Margaret Canning

Published 11/03/2016 | 02:30

Gareth Graham: Astonishing climbdown. Photo: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Gareth Graham: Astonishing climbdown. Photo: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

A top businessman has sensationally withdrawn allegations that the company that bought the £1bn Nama portfolio was involved in illegal behaviour.

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Bookmaker Gareth Graham has taken out an advert to state he regrets harm caused to the 'Cerberus brand' as a result of actions he launched against it following Northern Ireland's biggest and most controversial property deal, Project Eagle.

Mr Graham took Cerberus to court after his own companies were taken over by the fund.

In an astonishing climbdown Mr Graham has also now distanced himself from allegations that 'fixers' were paid illegal finders' fees in the deal, known as Project Eagle.

It's a sensational twist in the Nama Northern Ireland saga which has embroiled finance ministers north and south of the border, as well as top lawyers and accountants - and Gareth Graham's former business partner, Frank Cushnahan.

Mr Cushnahan was an adviser on Nama's Northern Ireland Advisory Committee, and was also a former director of some of the Graham family companies.

It has been alleged that Frank Cushnahan was one of the parties in line to receive a fixer's fee for helping set up the deal.

Mr Cushnahan has denied any wrongdoing. But last week a BBC Spotlight investigation played a secret recording of the businessman in which he claimed he was due a fee.

Mr Graham had previously told a Stormont committee he has recorded business phone calls, including calls made by Mr Cushnahan, which allegedly show an "ingrained culture of inappropriate and possibly illegal conduct" across political, banking, legal and accountancy sectors.

During previous court hearings in his case against Cerberus his barrister argued that the Northern Ireland loan book deal in 2014 would be rendered illegal if any third party fixers were wrongly involved.

Cerberus had appointed Ernst & Young as administrators to the companies, including Fernhill Properties, which owns apartments and shops at College Court Central in Belfast.

The alleged conduct of Cerberus led Mr Graham to accuse the fund in the Assembly being "unjust, unreasonable and ruthless".

Loans taken out with Bank of Ireland by Mr Graham to fund his business expansion were absorbed into the Republic's bad bank Nama in 2010, then sold to Cerberus in the €1.6bn deal in 2014. But Mr Graham took Cerberus to court in July to win back control of his companies - a process which led the parties to start mediation earlier this year.

Now, at the end of his own proceedings against Cerberus, Mr Graham has been left nursing legal costs likely to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Mr Graham's statement today said: "Following a full and frank dialogue with Cerberus, I wish to make plain that the legal proceedings between Cerberus, my business and me have been resolved to the full satisfaction of the parties."

But his statement also says that he had embarked on the litigation agaisnt Cerberus "in good faith and on the basis of what I then understood to be the position regarding my business. With the passage of time, certain matters have become clearer."

Irish Independent

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