Thursday 22 March 2018

US fund denies Cushnahan tie in Nama probe

CONTROVERSY: Frank Cushnahan
CONTROVERSY: Frank Cushnahan
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

US private equity giant, Cerberus, has once again moved to distance itself from the controversy surrounding businessman Frank Cushnahan and the alleged role he played in its €1.6bn purchase of Nama's Project Eagle loan book following the publication by the Northern Ireland finance committee of its interim report into the affair.

In its report, the committee highlighted a potentially explosive claim made by property developer Paddy Kearney in relation to the alleged conduct of Mr Cushnahan and Ian Coulter, a former managing partner of the Belfast-based law firm, Tughans.

The Sunday Independent understands Mr Kearney's allegation that the men asked him to provide them with "private information" on his property portfolio, in order to assist the bid being made for Project Eagle by "people they were acting for", is now being investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

A source familiar with the matter said the SEC investigation of the allegation follows complaints from several Northern Ireland businessmen involved in the Project Eagle process.

Responding to Mr Kearney's claim, Cerberus stressed in a statement that it had never "employed, paid or sought advice" from Mr Cushnahan in relation to its acquisition of the Project Eagle loan book.

While Cerberus denies having ever engaged Mr Cushnahan to act on its behalf, the businessman and former member of Nama's Northern Ireland Advisory Committee (NIAC), seems to have believed he played a key role in its acquisition of Nama's Northern Ireland loans.

That belief was highlighted in dramatic fashion two weeks ago with the BBC's Spotlight programme broadcasting a covert recording of Mr Cushnahan appearing to admit he had been in line for a fee from the €1.6bn Project Eagle deal.

Mr Kearney's claim in relation to Mr Cushnahan and Mr Coulter meanwhile was published in its entirety in last week's Project Eagle interim report. Questioned by the Northern Ireland finance committee, Mr Kearney said: "They were acting for one of the bidders for the Northern Ireland portfolio and asked me if I would come home [from Spain] to give them some information, because the people that they were acting for wanted to be in a position to make a proper bid. They needed some private information on the portfolio that was not public. It was private company information."

Mr Cushnahan has consistently denied any wrongdoing in relation to the Project Eagle deal. Cerberus, for its part, strongly denies having ever had any involvement with Mr Cushnahan or knowledge of his alleged actions.

Sunday Independent

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