Business Irish

Friday 24 November 2017

Nama inquiry planning to issue interim report on controversial €1.6bn loan sale


Shane Phelan, Public Affairs Editor

The parliamentary inquiry into the controversial sale of Nama’s northern loan portfolio is to publish an interim report in the coming weeks.

The report by Stormont’s committee on finance and personnel is expected to be issued before the Northern Assembly is dissolved for elections, most likely in March.

An inquiry by the committee into the €1.6bn deal has been ongoing since July following allegations of political kickbacks.

Officials said the committee had agreed to prepare a progress report on its inquiry to date before the mandate of the current assembly runs out.

The inquiry has heard explosive allegations that five individuals, including former First Minister Peter Robinson, were due to share a Stg£7.5m (€9.9m) payment linked to the deal.

All five have denied the allegations.

Other parallel investigations are being conducted by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Stormont committee is due to meet with the NCA prior to the publication of its report.

A spokeswoman said it would be seeking to minimise the risk of its work inadvertently prejudicing the ongoing criminal investigation.

“The report will set out the progress of the review to the end of the mandate, and outline the oral and written evidence given to the committee, the factual information that the committee has learnt and indications of any further evidence that remains to be taken,” the spokeswoman said.

The Stormont probe was launched following claims in the Dail by Independent TD Mick Wallace that over Stg£7m in an Isle of Man bank account was destined for a Northern politician or party.

Mr Robinson subsequently denied he or anyone linked to him was intended to be the recipient of the cash.

The committee has heard evidence from Mr Robinson, the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, prominent businessmen Gareth Graham and Paddy Kearney, political blogger Jamie Bryson and representatives of the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

Its inquiry is likely to continue after the assembly elections.

The probe has been looking into matters related to the purchase of the loan book by US vulture fund Cerberus in April 2014.

In the fallout from Mr Wallace’s allegations, it emerged another potential bidder, Pimco, left the fray after a former Nama advisor, northern businessman Frank Cushnahan, sought a success fee of Stg£5m (€6.6m) in connection with the deal.

Mr Cushnahan has denied any wrongdoing.

US law firm Brown Rudnick and Belfast solicitors Tughans had also been due to receive similar success fees had Pimco succeeded.

After Pimco withdrew, Cerberus emerged as the winning bidder, with Tughans also involved in helping it secure the deal.

But the sale became mired in controversy following revelations Stg£7.5m paid to Tughans was diverted to an Isle of Man account by its then managing partner Ian Coulter.

Mr Coulter departed the firm and the cash was returned.

Cerberus denied making any improper payment in connection with the deal.

Mr Coulter also denied any wrongdoing and said the money was transferred for complex, commercially and legally sensitive reasons which would be explained to the appropriate authorities.

Political blogger Jamie Bryson testified at the inquiry that he had received information that five people were to be the beneficiaries of the cash.

He named them as Mr Robinson, Mr Cushnahan, Mr Coulter, developer Andrew Creighton and accountant David Watters.

All five have rejected his testimony.

Mr Creighton said he did not claim, nor expect, to receive any payment in relation to Project Eagle, while Mr Watters described the "unsupported testimony" as "completely false".

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