Thursday 29 September 2016

Ex-Nama adviser 'set up Pimco meeting with Robinson'

Published 15/10/2015 | 02:30

Peter Robinson before the Stormont committee
Peter Robinson before the Stormont committee

Controversial businessman Frank Cushnahan is thought to have helped organise a confidential meeting between the North's First Minister Peter Robinson and US investment firm Pimco while he was still an advisor to Nama.

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The disclosure was made by Mr Robinson at the Stormont inquiry into the sale of Nama's northern loans portfolio.

The inquiry has been probing allegations, denied by the DUP leader, that he was in line to receive a payment in connection with the Project Eagle deal.

The previously undisclosed meeting with Pimco took place in May 2013 and was one of a number of engagements Mr Robinson had with bidders.

It was attended by Mr Robinson, his then finance minister Sammy Wilson, solicitor Ian Coulter, and Mr Cushnahan.

Mr Cushnahan was a member of Nama's Northern Ireland Advisory Committee (NIAC) at the time and remained in that position until November 2013.

Pimco entered a bidding process for the portfolio, but pulled out in March 2014 after concerns were expressed about Stg£5m (€6.7m) in "success fees" sought by Mr Cushnahan.

Disclosure

In a statement last night, Nama said Mr Cushnahan never made any disclosure of an interest relating to Pimco while he was a member of the NIAC.

The agency added it was not made aware, either by Mr Cushnahan or any other source, of any meeting attended by him and Pimco while he was a member of the NIAC. Nama only became aware of his connection to Pimco in March 2014.

The Project Eagle portfolio, made up of loans linked to 900 properties, was sold for €1.6bn to vulture fund Cerberus in April 2014.

Mr Robinson said he could not be sure, but the meeting with Pimco "may have been set up at the request of either Frank Cushnahan or Ian Coulter or both". He said he had found both men to be "motivated by the best interests of Northern Ireland" and he never asked if they were to receive any fees.

Mr Robinson said it "never entered my head at the time" that Mr Cushnahan may have had a conflict of interest. He said it was for others to decide whether he did or not.

The First Minister said he had been anxious to get assurances on how potential purchasers would operate, given that they would be buying the distressed loans of many leading northern business people.

"It was our aim and duty to protect the interests of those who are the engines of the Northern Ireland economy. Let me be clear. I am unashamedly and unapologetically pro-business. It is our business community that creates wealth in our society. They create the jobs and their activity grows our economy," he said.

Meetings with potential bidders were kept confidential as the companies involved did not want publicity, he said.

Mr Robinson rejected as "outrageous" and "groundless" claims by political blogger Jamie Bryson that he was one of five people who had been set to benefit from Stg£7.5m in an Isle of Man account.

"For the record, I repeat, I neither received, expected to receive, sought, nor was I offered a single penny as a result of the Nama sale," he said.

The Isle of Man money was part of a success fee paid to Belfast law firm Tughans for work on the Project Eagle deal.

It was diverted to the account on the instructions of Mr Coulter. The transaction is being probed by the UK's National Crime Agency.

Mr Bryson alleged that Mr Cushnahan and Mr Coulter had also been in line to benefit.

Both have denied any wrongdoing in relation to the sale.

Irish Independent

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