Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Belfast solicitor 'put £7m in Isle of Man bank for politician' after property deal

An emergency meeting of the Stormont finance committee is to be called

By Margaret Canning

Published 03/07/2015

Douglas in the Isle of Man where the £7m was reportedly held
Douglas in the Isle of Man where the £7m was reportedly held
Independent TD Mick Wallace

A leading Northern Ireland solicitor had £7m in a bank account "reportedly earmarked for a politician" after a major property deal, it has been claimed.

The sensational allegation was made in the Irish parliament by independent member Mick Wallace against a former partner of Belfast law firm, Tughans.

Both the First and Deputy First Ministers have spoken out about the allegations calling for full investigations.

DUP leader Peter Robinson said such stories can "damage politics".

He said: "Stories such as that from the Dail damage politics. Those with information should give it to the authorities to test its credibility in a thorough investigation."

Sinn Fein MLA Martin McGuinness said: "These claims are very serious and must be thoroughly investigated.

"That investigation needs to begin immediately and I would encourage Mick Wallace to speak to An Garda Síochána and the PSNI as a matter of urgency."

On Friday afternoon the Chair of the Assembly Finance Committee Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay called for an emergency sitting of the committee to consider the allegations.

Mr McKay said he would be calling the committee together at the earliest opportunity.

He said:"These are very serious allegations and need to be fully and thoroughly investigated as a matter of urgency. If there is any suggestion of illegality then the police must thoroughly investigate the allegations.

"The Finance committee will also want to look into these claims given the significance of the sale of these NAMA assets for the local economy.

“As part of this examination I would expect Cerberus to appear before the committee.

“I would intend to call on NAMA officials and Mick Wallace to appear before the committee and the law firm involved to elaborate on their recent statement on the matter."

Last night Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt stated that if the allegations were proven to be true, they represented corruption "on a previously unimaginable scale".

And TUV leader Jim Allister said he would table an urgent Assembly question to ask the First and Deputy First Minister what steps they would propose "so that these matters can be adequately investigated".

Mr Wallace raised concerns over the sale of the Northern Ireland property portfolio of the National Assets Management Agency (Nama) in April 2014.

Tughans has denied Mr Wallace's allegations. But in a statement released last night the company has said that a former partner did divert money into a bank account. It said the partner had since left the firm.

Dail TD Mick Wallace brought up allegations around payments in the Dail yesterday.

Mr Wallace named Tughans as having acted for Cerberus, which bought the Nama portfolio in Northern Ireland, and that "a routine audit showed that £7m ended up in an Isle of Man bank account". He added: "It was reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician."

A statement from Tughans said: "Tughans' duties of confidentiality to its clients are absolute and we do not comment on internal affairs. In response to the comments made today in the Dail we can confirm, however, that a former partner diverted to an account of which he was the sole beneficiary, professional fees due to the firm without the knowledge of the partners.

"We have since retrieved the money and he has left the practice.

"The practice is not linked to any political party nor has it ever made party political donations.

"Tughans reported the circumstances of the departure of the former partner to the Law Society."

A spokesman for the Law Society said: "The Law Society of Northern Ireland does not comment on whether or not there is any investigation ongoing in relation to any particular matter or firm."

Mr Nesbitt said he categorically denied being the intended recipient of any of the alleged millions.

"We have heard rumours of corruption before, but nothing approaching this quantum. If true, it represents abuse of power of a previously unimaginable scale," he said.

And Mr Allister said that "it is imperative that this matter is thoroughly investigated by all relevant authorities, including the PSNI. The PSNI needs to make its intentions clear.

"Tughans confirmation of the mysterious diversion of funds to a separate account, apparently in the Isle of Man, lends credence to at least that part of the Dail allegation, accentuating the need for the entirety of the allegations to be properly and independently investigated," he added.

A DUP spokesman said the party was unaware of the allegations.

Mr Wallace told the Dail that money had been discovered to be missing during a "routine audit".

He was urged by the chairman of the Dail not to "make cases against people who are not here to defend themselves".

But Mr Wallace (left) said: "We are talking about billions of taxpayers' money".

He added: "I am not telling anything that was made up."

Addressing Tanaiste Joan Burton, Mr Wallace asked her if she had concerns about "a routine audit of a solicitor's firm that looked after the deal where €4.5bn of assets were sold for €1.5bn, with a massive loss for the Irish taxpayer? The routine audit showed that £7m sterling ended up in an Isle of Man bank account".

He also said: "It was reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician."

The Tanaiste said the Irish Comptroller and Auditor General had a specific role, including in regard to the oversight of Nama.

In a statement, Nama said it was "fully satisfied" that the sales process for the Northern Ireland loan portfolio "delivered the best possible return".

The statement added that the Lazard investment bank advised on and oversaw the sales process.

Based on its assessment of the market, Lazard invited "nine major global investment groups" to participate in the process.

Nama said that Cerberus emerged as the highest bidder following a competitive sales process.

Belfast Telegraph

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph