Monday 23 October 2017

Businessman Frank Cushnahan thought to have set up secret meeting between Peter Robinson and potential Nama portfolio buyer

Frank Cushnahan
Frank Cushnahan

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Controversial businessman Frank Cushnahan is thought to have organised a secret meeting between the North’s First Minister Peter Robinson and US investment fund Pimco while he was still an advisor to Nama.

The disclosure was made by Mr Robinson at the Stormont inquiry into the sale of Nama’s northern loans portfolio, Project Eagle.

The meeting was set up in May 2013 and was one of a number of engagements Mr Robinson had with bidders for the portfolio.

It was attended by Mr Robinson, the North’s then finance minister, Sammy Wilson, Mr Cushnahan and Belfast solicitor Ian Coulter. Mr Robinson said he could not be sure, but he believed the meeting may have been set up by Mr Cushnahan or Mr Coulter, or both.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson

Mr Cushnahan was a member of Nama’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee at the time and remained in that position until November 2013.

Pimco subsequently entered a bidding process for the portfolio, but pulled out after concerns were expressed about Stg£5m in fees sought by Mr Cushnahan.

Read more: Details of NI's First Minister Peter Robinson's Nama deal revealed

The portfolio, which was made up of loans linked to 900 properties, was sold for €1.6bn to international vulture fund Cerberus in April of last year.

Mr Robinson told the inquiry that meetings with potential bidders were kept confidential as he was worried the property market could be destabilised if they were publicly disclosed at the time.

He also insisted that Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was kept informed of such engagements, contrary to evidence given by Mr McGuinness to the inquiry.

Mr Robinson said he did not believe Mr Cushnahan had a conflict of interest and said it “never entered my head at the time”.

He said Nama chairman Frank Daly has given assurances Mr Cushnahan would not have had any insider knowledge of the Project Eagle portfolio.

The First Minister also told the inquiry he completely rejected allegations he was one of five people set to benefit from Stg£7.5m in an Isle of Man account.

Read more: NI First Minister Peter Robinson received assurances from Cerberus on treatment of NAMA borrowers

“For the record I have never received, expected to receive or sought a single penny from the Nama sale,” he said.

The Isle of Man money was part of a success fee paid to Belfast law firm Tughans, which worked on the Project Eagle deal for both Cerberus and Pimco. It was diverted to the account on the instructions of Tughans’ then managing partner Ian Coulter.

The transaction is being investigated by the UK’s National Crime Agency.

Both Mr Cushnahan and Mr Coulter have denied any wrongdoing.

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