Tuesday 17 July 2018

Nama deal involved fraud and embezzlement, inquiry member claims

Mairtin O Muilleoir
Mairtin O Muilleoir

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

The €1.6bn sale of Nama’s Project Eagle northern loan portfolio was “a sweetheart deal” involving embezzlement and fraud, a member of a parliamentary inquiry has claimed.

Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir used privilege to describe the transaction – Nama’s largest disposal of assets – as “a dirty scheme” involving possible kickbacks to politicians.

He made the remarks at a hearing of the Northern Assembly’s committee on finance and personnel, which was taking evidence from the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

The society has been investigating the conduct of Belfast solicitor Ian Coulter, the former managing partner of Tughans, since it received a complaint from the law firm last January.

The North's First Minister Peter Robinson has denied that he received any money related to Project Eagle (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
The North's First Minister Peter Robinson has denied that he received any money related to Project Eagle (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) also launched an inquiry last month after it emerged Stg£7m paid to Tughans in connection with the Nama deal had been moved to an account in the Isle of Man under the control of Mr Coulter.

Tughans acted as advisors to US vulture fund Cerberus, which bought the loan portfolio in April of last year, and a rival bidder Pimco.

Independent TD Mick Wallace alleged in the Dail that the cash was destined for a Northern politician or party, a claim denied by both Tughans and Mr Coulter.

Law Society chairperson Arleen Elliott told the committee today she was restricted from commenting on the specifics of its investigation, which is ongoing.

She said the society had been warned in a phone call from a senior NCA officer just minutes before the hearing that it was not to say anything which could compromise the criminal investigation.

Ms Elliott agreed to speak only in general terms. She told the committee it was a criminal offence for legal fees to be shared with someone who is not legally qualified.

She also said that all partners in a law firm would be responsible for client accounts regardless of whether they personally controlled them or not.

“It is a matter of strict liability, so for example if there was client monies that went missing as a result of the activities of one partner, all partners are responsible regardless of whether they had anything to do with it or not.”

Several members of the committee expressed unhappiness with the society’s refusal to answer specific questions

Committee chairman, Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay, said its inquiry was dealing with “the biggest financial scandal we have ever seen in the North” and the law society’s reputation was being affected.

His party colleague Mairtin O Muilleoir said the public interest outweighed the interests of the society.

“We are trying to investigate a deal in which we believe there were kickbacks. There was a sweetheart deal, embezzlement, fraud, a dirty scheme,” he said.

“We are investigating it because it is alleged that at the heart of it were politicians benefiting.”

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