Wednesday 28 September 2016

Noonan faces pressure from North over Nama snub

Published 17/07/2015 | 02:30

Finance Minister Michael Noonan
Finance Minister Michael Noonan

Northern politicians are to lobby Finance Minister Michael Noonan in an effort to force Nama to appear before a parliamentary inquiry.

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The move comes after the agency refused to attend hearings of the Northern Ireland Assembly's finance committee, which is investigating last year's sale of Nama's northern loan portfolio for €1.6bn.

The committee's chairman, Sinn Féin MLA Daithi McKay, accused Nama of "insulting" its inquiry into the 'Project Eagle' portfolio.

In a letter to the committee this week, Nama declined to attend. Its chairman Frank Daly has previously insisted it was accountable to committees of the Oireachtas rather than any outside the jurisdiction.

However, Mr McKay criticised the agency's stance as his committee met to plan what is expected to be a series of hearings at Stormont.

"Nama has had a role in the North, they have a role in the North and in terms of these particular issues they will continue to have a role into the future. So it is their responsibility to send representatives to this committee to answer questions," he said.

The committee agreed to write to Mr Noonan "asking that he strongly advise Nama to attend". The letter will also state that the committee is prepared to invoke its powers of compellability should Nama not volunteer to appear.

The committee heard that other key players in the controversy, winning bidders Cerberus, another company which was in the running, Pimco, and the Belfast law firm Tughans, had all agreed to give evidence at the committee.

The Law Society of Northern Ireland, which is investigating the activities of former Tughans managing partner Ian Coulter, had been due to give evidence to the committee yesterday.

However, after deliberations behind closed doors the committee opted to adjourn and is now likely to recall the society at a later date.

It is understood the PSNI expressed fears some of the society's evidence could impede its investigation into allegations relating to Stg£7.5m which was in an Isle of Man account under Mr Coulter's control.

In light of the PSNI advice, the committee is to draft terms of reference which will ensure it does not impact on any potential prosecutions.

"We are not in any way being shut down. We are just going to reframe how we are going to approach this," said Mr McKay.

Mr Coulter, who advised both Pimco and Cerberus, has accepted the money was in an account controlled by him.

However, he has denied any impropriety, stating the reason for the transfer was "a complex, commercially and legally sensitive issue" which would be explained to the authorities.

He has also insisted the money was not destined for any politician or relative of a politician.

Access

The committee also resolved to seek access to ministerial papers in relation to the deal.

These are likely to include documents relating to a memorandum of understanding apparently agreed between Pimco and the Northern government.

The committee is also set to investigate the appointment of former banker Frank Cushnahan to Nama's northern advisory committee.

Mr Cushnahan resigned from the advisory committee in November 2013. Five months later he stood to earn Stg£5m in success fees if Pimco bought the loan portfolio. Mr Cushnahan has yet to make any comment on the controversy.

Irish Independent

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