Wednesday 29 March 2017

Peter Robinson strongly denies explosive new allegations about Nama deal

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson
Jamie Bryson
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The North's first minister, Peter Robinson, has denied allegations he was in line to receive a corrupt payment in connection with the sale of Nama's northern loan portfolio.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader issued the statement after a parliamentary inquiry was told he was one of five people who were to share a Stg£7.5m (€10.2m) "success fee" from US vulture fund Cerberus, which bought the Project Eagle portfolio for €1.6bn last year.

The sensational allegation was made under parliamentary privilege by loyalist figure Jamie Bryson at a hearing of the Northern Assembly's Committee on Finance and Personnel.

Mr Bryson told the committee he had sight of documents to support his allegation. He also claimed documentation proving his allegation was in the possession of the UK's National Crime Agency, which is investigating the deal.

According to Mr Bryson, the others earmarked to benefit were Ian Coulter, the former managing partner of Belfast law firm Tughans, former Nama advisor Frank Cushnahan, accountant David Watters and developer Andrew Creighton.

He said a success fee paid to Tughans went into a Danske Bank account in Belfast and was later transferred to an offshore account.

The existence of the Isle of Man account was first disclosed in the Dáil by Independent TD Mick Wallace last July. Tughans later confirmed money had been diverted to it by Mr Coulter.

In a statement last night, Mr Robinson said: "I repeat, I neither received, expected to receive, sought, nor was I offered a single penny as a result of the Nama sale.

"The allegations made today lack credibility and can have no evidential basis. The scripted performance was little short of pantomime. It is outrageous that such scurrilous and unfounded allegations can be made without providing one iota of evidence."

Mr Robinson added that he was happy to appear before the inquiry.

Mr Coulter has also denied any wrongdoing, as has Mr Cushnahan.

A spokesman for Mr Watters and Mr Creighton said they had no comment to make at this time.

Mr Bryson was only allowed give evidence in public following considerable debate within the committee.

He eventually gave his testimony in open session after DUP members lost a vote on the issue.

The loyalist blogger has been a controversial figure who previously sprung to prominence for his role in protests against a decision in 2012 by Belfast City Council to limit the number of days each year that the Union Jack flies above Belfast City Hall.

Under questioning, Mr Bryson refused to identify his sources, saying he was not in a position to breach their confidence. He described them as "sources extremely close and involved in this nefarious deal" who were acting as "whistleblowers".

He added: "I will repeat the evidence outside of this room and therefore without privilege. Therefore if anyone takes issue with it, they can issue court proceedings to clear their name. I am not hiding behind privilege here today."

The DUP and the Nama deal timeline

Evidence given at the Stormont and Dáil inquiries into Project Eagle shows Peter Robinson's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had considerable behind- the-scenes contacts with Nama and bidders for the agency's northern loans portfolio.

November 2009: The North's then finance minister, Sammy Wilson of the DUP, successfully lobbied his southern counterpart Brian Lenihan to have Frank Cushnahan appointed as a Nama advisor.

June 24, 2013: Mr Wilson wrote to Mr Lenihan's successor, Michael Noonan, enclosing a letter from US law firm Brown Rudnick, which was representing parties interested in buying the northern loans portfolio.

One of those parties, Pimco, wanted a closed transaction, something Nama would not agree to.

September 27, 2013: A meeting took place in Stormont involving Mr Robinson, Mr Wilson's successor Simon Hamilton, also of the DUP, and Mr Noonan where the Nama loan portfolio was discussed.

November 8, 2013: Frank Cushnahan resigned from Nama's Northern Ireland Advisory Committee, citing family reasons.

January 17, 2014: Mr Robinson's principal private secretary wrote to Nama enclosing a "letter of intent" relating to the proposed management of the Northern loan portfolio.

The letter summarised an apparent agreement between Pimco and the Northern Ireland Executive, pledging favourable terms for Nama debtors. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness claims he was not informed of the memorandum.

March 10, 2014: Pimco informed Nama that its compliance staff had discovered a proposed fee arrangement with Brown Rudnick included the payment of a Stg£5m fee to Frank Cushnahan.

Nama expressed concerns about the proposed payment and requested that Pimco withdraw from the bidding.

March 25, 2014: Mr Robinson, Mr Hamilton and Belfast solicitor Ian Coulter meet leading Cerberus official Dan Quayle, the former US Vice President, at Stormont Castle. Mr McGuinness claims he was not informed of the meeting.

April 3, 2014: Cerebus is chosen as the successful bidder for the portfolio.

July 11, 2015: Following allegations in the Dáil, Mr Robinson denies he or his family sought to benefit from the deal.

September 23, 2015: Mr Robinson issues a further denial following claims by Jamie Bryson at a Stormont inquiry.

Irish Independent

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