Tuesday 27 September 2016

Nama asks ethics body to probe former adviser

Dearbhail McDonald and Shane Phelan

Published 03/03/2016 | 02:30

Frank Cushnahan
Frank Cushnahan

Nama has made a complaint to the Standards in Public Office (Sipo) about Frank Cushnahan, a former member of the agency's Northern Ireland advisory committee (Niac).

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The complaint alleges that Mr Cushnahan (73), who is at the centre of controversy over his alleged role in the Project Eagle deal, is in breach of section 17 of the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995.

The Irish Independent has learned that Nama has raised two issues with Sipo.

One arm of the complaint, lodged yesterday, involves Mr Cushnahan's dealings with US investment fund Pimco and its legal advisers, US firm Brown Rudnick and Tughan's, the North's leading commercial law firm.

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.

Mr Cushnahan has consistently denied that he was due to receive the money.

Nama has also raised Mr Cushnahan's shareholding in companies which the toxic loans agency says owed money to it.

Nama, its committees and group entities have been subject to the 1995 act since 2010, but it is unclear whether Northern Ireland-based advisers are captured by the law. Section 17 of the 1995 act, which governs designated directorships and conflicts of interest, obliges officials to declare interests which materially affect their directorships.

Mr Cushnahan is expected to mount a robust response to the Sipo complaint according to his lawyer, Paul Tweed.

Separately, another former Nama official is to be called before a parliamentary inquiry in the North over suggestions he helped ensure the agency did not move against certain debtors.

Ronnie Hanna, Nama's former head of asset recovery, is to be summoned to appear before Stormont's committee on finance and personnel, which is investigating the €1.6bn sale of the agency's Project Eagle northern loan portfolio.

The move follows a BBC 'Spotlight' programme which featured a covert recording in which it was suggested Mr Hanna "prevented people's lights going out". The comment was made by Mr Cushnahan in a conversation with Co Down developer John Miskelly, whose loans were previously in Nama.

At a meeting yesterday, MLAs resolved to invite both Mr Hanna and public relations executive Gareth Robinson, son of former Northern Ireland Assembly First Minister Peter Robinson, to give evidence.

Belief

In the recording, Mr Miskelly expressed his belief that Mr Robinson, Mr Cushnahan and Mr Hanna helped protect him from having his "lights put out" by Nama.

He has also been called to give evidence to the inquiry, as has accountant David Gray, who was present when the conversation took place.

Mr Hanna, a former bank official, has yet to comment.

He left the agency in late 2014 and now runs a consultancy business in the North.

Efforts by the Irish Independent to speak to him yesterday proved unsuccessful.

Mr Robinson did not respond when contacted at his public relations firm. Mr Cushnahan has also not commented.

Irish Independent

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