Thursday 23 November 2017

Controversial Nama adviser at centre of a second police investigation

Frank Cushnahan
Frank Cushnahan
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The former Nama adviser at the centre of the Project Eagle scandal is the subject of a second police investigation.

Frank Cushnahan met PSNI officers late last year following fraud allegations by a former business associate, the Irish Independent understands.

The probe is separate from an inquiry by the UK's National Crime Agency into Mr Cushnahan's alleged role in the €1.6bn sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan portfolio.

The PSNI investigation was instigated following a criminal complaint by Belfast property developer and bookmaker Gareth Graham.

Mr Graham accused Mr Cushnahan of conspiracy to defraud and of seeking to obtain a financial advantage by deception while he was acting as chairman of the Sean Graham betting chain between 2005 and 2008. The claims have been denied by Mr Cushnahan.

Mr Graham aired grievances he has with Mr Cushnahan at a sitting of the Stormont committee inquiring into Project Eagle last September. He said the former banker was brought on board to develop the family's bookmaking business and was given a 5pc shareholding.

But instead of growing the business, Mr Graham alleged Mr Cushnahan tried to have it sold, something which would have netted him a significant return on his shares.

The PSNI has declined to comment on Mr Graham's complaint. However, a source with knowledge of events said Mr Cushnahan had co-operated with the police but denied any wrongdoing.

Earlier this week, Mr Graham publicly withdrew his allegations that vulture fund Cerberus, which bought the Project Eagle loans, was involved in illegal behaviour.

However, he still stands over the allegations he made against Mr Cushnahan, who served on Nama's northern advisory committee between 2010 and 2013.

Nama learned from investment firm Pimco in March 2014 that Mr Cushnahan was in line for a fee of Stg£5m if Pimco was the chosen bidder for the Project Eagle portfolio.

The agency expressed concern about this and Pimco withdrew from the bidding.

Cerberus bought the portfolio the following month.

Mr Cushnahan denied he was to benefit from the Cerberus deal, but appeared to say the opposite in a secretly recorded conversation broadcast by the BBC's 'Spotlight' programme, which suggested he was to receive Stg£6m.

Last night, Mr Cushnahan's solicitor, Paul Tweed, said he had put the BBC "on notice" of defamation proceedings arising from the programme.

Meanwhile, Nama has taken issue with a report published by the Stormont committee, which criticised as "unhelpful" the agency's refusal to give oral evidence to the inquiry.

In a letter to committee chairman Daithi McKay, Nama chairman Frank Daly said he did not accept the finding.

Mr Daly said it had always been Nama's position that it was accountable to the Oireachtas. He said Project Eagle had been discussed extensively at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee and those transcripts had been provided to the inquiry.

The Nama chairman also rejected the inquiry's finding that Nama should have suspended the sales process after learning of the proposed fee for Mr Cushnahan.

Mr Daly said the inquiry had not considered the risks such a decision would have caused to Nama.

Investors might have been reluctant to invest time and money in carrying out due diligence and bidding on other loan or asset portfolios.

He also said the abandonment of the sale could have had very costly consequences for Nama and the recovery of the Irish market.

Irish Independent

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