Saturday 10 December 2016

Nama: First Minister rejects calls for cross-border inquiry following BBC Spotlight allegations

Published 08/09/2016 | 19:32

BBC probe: Frank Cushnahan
BBC probe: Frank Cushnahan

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has rejected calls for a cross-border inquiry following new revelations about Nama's role in the state's biggest ever property deal broadcast by the BBC's Spotlight programme on Tuesday.

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Mrs Foster said: "We have always been very clear that the NCA is the appropriate and professional organisation to deal with any allegations.

The chairman of the Irish Parliament's finance committee made the call for an all-island commission of inquiry into Nama.

Speaking to RTE News Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said an all-island approach is required.

"An inquiry is absolutely necessary to clear up all of the questions that have arisen from that programme and the outstanding questions from other public comments that have been made."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he supported such an inquiry.

He said: "What we need is, obviously, the police investigations - whether it be the American ones or on this side of the water - expedited as quickly as possible so we can have full information about what was actually going on.

"And then I think we need an all-Ireland investigation with the administrations north and south co-operating to, as best they can, get to the bottom of what was happening."

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt has written to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) asking whether the agency is going to investigate allegations that arose during Tuesday's edition of BBC Spotlight.

Mike Nesbitt MLA said: "I have written to HMRC to confirm whether they intend to investigate allegations made during Spotlight of large sums of money being exchanged.

"Given how serious the allegations made during the programme were, they must receive full and robust investigations.”

Belfast businessman Frank Cushnahan, a former Nama adviser, was accused last year by a BBC Spotlight programme of receiving an illegal fixers fee for arranging the sale of the Northern Ireland portfolio to the American company Cerberus.

On Tuesday night, a new BBC Spotlight investigation broadcast secret recordings of meetings with Mr Cushnahan and the property developer John Miskelly.

Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

The Spotlight allegations include:

  • Claims that Cushnahan received £40,000 from Mr Miskelly, with promises to help him buy back property he lost in the crash for a lower price, something Nama had prohibited developers from doing;
     
  • Claims by Cushnahan he could achieve this as he had influence over a senior Nama executive from Northern Ireland, Nama's head of asset recovery, Ronnie Hanna - although other than Mr Cushnahan's claim, there is no evidence that Mr Hanna could be influenced.
     
  • A recording of the businessman saying that prior to the sale of NI's Nama portfolio (Project Eagle), he was "working with" senior DUP members Sammy Wilson and Peter Robinson. He boasted he could get them to apply pressure in Dublin, so the portfolio could be sold to the American firm for less than it was worth. Nama have always insisted they achieved the best deal possible.

Mr Wilson was approached by the BBC for a comment.

The secret recordings also frequently mention Gareth Robinson, the son of the former First Minister.

It's understood Gareth Robinson had introduced John Miskelly and Mr Cushnahan four years ago. Mr Cushnahan can be heard telling Mr Miskelly he would make sure Gareth Robinson "gets something in the deal."

BBC reporter Mandy McAuley states that there is no evidence Mr Robinson knew about the £40,000 payment, and did not produce any evidence he did know.

She also claims that after a year of investigating Mr Cushnahan, Spotlight are convinced he was not above exaggerating his connections and influence over senior politicians and Nama officials.

The Spotlight documentary also reveals a document allegedly produced by Mr Cushnahan, showing the value Nama had assigned to John Miskelly's property portfolio. giving him an unfair advantage if he were to try and buy back the property. Spotlight say it's unclear if the information came from Mr Cushnahan, Mr Miskelly or from a leak within Nama.

Last year, Mr Miskelly was listed to appear before the Stormont finance committee for its hearing on the Nama property deal.

In a further tape recording, Mr Cushnahan can be heard coaching Mr Miskelly for his appearance in front of the finance committee, and in the event he got questioned by the National Crime Agency.

Mr Miskelly is told to deny making any payments to Mr Cushnahan and warns him he will be asked about his connections.

The Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness, head of the Irish finance committee, has now called for an all Ireland Nama investigation. He believes the Northern Ireland Nama property portfolio was sold far below its true value.

He added: "It would appear to me that Mr Cushnahan was using the political system and the economy in Northern Ireland to get that discount and whether people knew his intentions or not, he obviously had it well worked out to achieve what he wanted."

Peter Robinson has said any suggestion a discount was achieved for Project Eagle was "risible" and Spotlight were only using his name for attention.

Mr Cushnahan has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has said he is contemplating legal action against the BBC.

Last night, Mr Miskelly issued a statement denying he had acted inappropriately.

"Since 2007/8, I have consistently and truthfully reported financial crime and corruption with the relevant authorities including; Anglo Irish Bank, IBRC, Nama, Cerberus, other financial institutions, the PSNI and the National Crime Agency (NCA)," he said. "I have also travelled to the United States and reported these matters to officials from the Security Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice and the FBI.

"My overriding aim has always been to highlight wrongdoing and corruption and have all of these matters fully investigated by the appropriate authorities.

"I have at all times made clear that payments made by me to any persons have been lawful and legitimate.

"As a witness, I am participating in the ongoing investigations by the NCA and authorities in the United States and in the interest of integrity of the judicial process I am unable to make any further comment."

Belfast Telegraph

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