Saturday 16 December 2017

Police probe launched into Mick Wallace's allegation of a political payoff

Mick Wallace
Mick Wallace

David Young, Press Association

POLICE in Northern Ireland have launched an investigation into allegations of a political pay-off in a massive property deal.

Detectives are to probe the £1.1 billion sale of Northern Ireland assets owned by NAMA to a US investment firm last year.

Police commanders had been coming under intense pressure to act in the wake of explosive allegations levelled in the Dail last week by independent TD Mick Wallace.

Using parliamentary privilege, Mr Wallace alleged that £7 million in an Isle of Man account linked to the deal was "reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or political party".

Nama is the bank set up by the Irish government to clear property loans from bailed out lenders.

It and all private firms involved in the Northern Ireland assets sale have denied wrongdoing.

Mr Wallace's allegations in the Dail last Thursday related to the role one of Northern Ireland's major law firms, Tughans, played in the deal.

The Wexford TD claimed the cash in the offshore account was discovered during a routine internal audit by the Belfast solicitors following their work for the US buyers - private equity firm Cerberus.

Senior partners at Tughans said the money was diverted without their knowledge and has since been retrieved.

Ian Coulter, a former managing partner at Tughans who the firm said worked on the Cerberus/Nama transaction, has since left the company. Mr Coulter has not commented publicly on Mr Wallace's claims.

Stormont's finance committee and the Dail's Public Accounts Committee are also examining Mr Wallace's allegations about the project eagle deal to sell Northern Ireland properties held by Nama.

Project Eagle and its 850 properties had a book value of £4.5 billion (6.3 billion euro).

Nama took control of it by paying banks 1.9 billion euro for the loans but then sold it to Cerberus for about £1.1 billion (1.5 billion euro) last June, at a loss of about 200 million euro.

The PSNI said a criminal inquiry will be launched in relation to concerns raised over the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland property portfolio and the recent claims made by Mr Wallace.

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr, who is head of crime operations at the PSNI, said: "We believe that there is sufficient concern in relation to potential criminal activity, surrounding this property deal, to instigate an investigation.

"PSNI are now engaging with a number of other national and international law enforcement partners to consider how best to take forward this investigation."

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