Tuesday 6 December 2016

Stormont will compel witnesses to Nama hearings

Published 14/07/2015 | 02:30

Frank Cushnahan
Frank Cushnahan

Key figures in the controversy over the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loans portfolio will be compelled to give evidence at parliamentary hearings if they refuse to attend voluntarily.

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Neither Belfast solicitor Ian Coulter nor former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan has responded to requests to attend the Northern Ireland Assembly's finance committee.

Nama chairman Frank Daly also indicated last week he would not be attending hearings at Stormont, as the agency is answerable to committees at Leinster House.

However, Sinn Féin MLA Daithi McKay, who chairs the finance committee, said it would exercise its powers of compellability if key witnesses refused to attend. The committee is due to begin its hearings on the €1.6bn sale of the Project Eagle portfolio later this week.

A police investigation was launched after it emerged some Stg£7m was found in an account controlled by Mr Coulter in the Isle of Man. The solicitor and his former law firm, Tughans, acted for two bidders for the loan portfolio.

Independent TD Mick Wallace told the Dáil the money had been reportedly earmarked for a Northern politician or party.

It also emerged last week that global investment firm Pimco disclosed to Nama it planned to pay Mr Cushnahan Stg£5m in consultancy fees if it was successful in its bid for the portfolio. A rival company, Cerberus, secured the portfolio in April of last year.

The first witnesses in the hearings, representatives of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, will give evidence on Thursday. Representatives of Tughans have agreed to give evidence at a date to be decided.

The society has been investigating the conduct of Mr Coulter since February. He resigned as managing partner at Tughans the previous month. The law firm said the £7m in the Isle of Man account was diverted fees which had since been retrieved.

Complex

Law Society chief executive Alan Hunter told the Irish Independent its inquiry was still ongoing and was dealing with "very complex" issues.

"I think it is fair to say the society has been very persistent in its inquiries," he said.

Mr Hunter said the society would seek to explain its position "as fully and as openly as possible" without interfering with the PSNI investigation.

The committee is expected to ask why the society did not go to police when it started investigating Mr Coulter. The solicitor is unable to practise in the North, as his practising certificate was not renewed earlier this year. The committee is likely to steer clear of issues which may be central to the inquiry. However, it will not be precluded from examining Mr Cushnahan's appointment to Nama's northern advisory committee or a memorandum of understanding apparently agreed between the Northern government and Pimco which would have provided favourable terms for Nama debtors.

Irish Independent

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