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Developer Kearney threatens to sue Sinn Fein's O Muilleoir over 'false Nama allegations'

 

By Suzanne Breen

Leading property developer Paddy Kearney has launched a legal action against former Sinn Fein finance minister Mairtin O Muilleoir.

Lawyers for the businessman have accused Mr O Muilleoir of making "a number of totally false and unfounded allegations" against him at Stormont.

It is the property developer's latest salvo in a battle to defend his reputation which has already seen him begin legal proceedings against former Sinn Fein MLA, Daithi McKay, for allegedly unlawfully conspiring against him.

Mr Kearney is now alleging that Mr O Muilleoir made malicious claims about him in the Assembly and at a meeting of the Finance and Personnel Committee which have damaged his personal and business reputation.

MLAs' statements in the Assembly or at Stormont committees are normally protected by parliamentary privilege, meaning that the speaker can't be sued for defamation. However, such legal protection is not provided if malicious intent is proved.

At this stage, these are allegations contained in a letter sent by Mr Kearney to Mr O Muilleoir.

Sinn Fein has not responded to repeated requests from the Belfast Telegraph on the matter, but legal sources say that the allegations may be entirely disputed by Mr O Muilleoir and Sinn Fein.

Mr Kearney is alleging that the party's former finance minister put "loaded questions" to him when he voluntarily appeared before the finance committee in November 2015 to challenge Nama-related allegations made about him to the committee six weeks earlier by loyalist blogger, Jamie Bryson.

The businessman also claims that Mr O Muilleoir made "serious defamatory allegations, inferences and malicious falsehoods" against him in an Assembly debate on September 26, 2016 and at a finance and personnel committee hearing nine days later on October 5, 2016.

Correspondence from the businessman's legal team to Mr O Muilleoir states: "You have made totally false and unfounded allegations and inferences regarding our client during the Assembly debate in your capacity as Finance Minister whilst speaking from the front bench, which ... is all the more serious given that you had also been speaking on behalf of a government department."

The property developer alleges that the former Sinn Fein Finance Minister attempted to portray him as "corrupt" and being "guilty of inappropriate and improper conduct" regarding Nama.

Mr Kearney contends that he has built his business "in an entirely proper, diligent, and appropriate commercial basis and most certainly has not been involved in the corruption implied in your outrageous statements".

The legal correspondence continues: "Contrary to your unfounded statement, our client was neither given nor sought any preferential deals or treatment from Cerberus. On the contrary, he had faced extremely tough and difficult negotiations."

Mr Kearney's legal team argue that the former Sinn Fein Finance Minister made "malicious allegations in the erroneous belief that you have the protection of parliamentary privilege".

Mr Kearney (63) is a former joiner from west Belfast who became one of Northern Ireland's leading property developers

One of the so-called Maple Ten investors, his company Kilmona Holdings owns the Belfast boutique hotel Ten Square.

Mr Kearney's previous projects include high-profile shopping centres in Northern Ireland and Scotland. He is planning to develop a series of huge office buildings across Belfast in coming years.

Kilmona is starting a £50m development beside Central Station in the Market area of the city. It will build around 300,000sq ft of office space, spread across four blocks.

In his evidence to the finance committee in November 2015, Mr Kearney denied having a "cosy relationship" with former First Minister Peter Robinson.

Appearing before the committee six weeks earlier, Jamie Bryson had alleged that Mr Robinson had exerted undue influence to secure a favourable "sweetheart deal" for Mr Kearney when he moved to refinance his Nama-controlled loans after they were bought by US investment firm Cerebus.

Claims last year that the finance committee's chairman at the time, Daithi McKay, had set up a back channel on Twitter to "coach" Mr Bryson shortly before he gave his evidence led to the Sinn Fein MLA's resignation.

In December, Mr Kearney lodged a writ in Belfast High Court claiming that through "unlawful conspiracy" and "acts of targeted malice" against him, Mr McKay was "guilty of misfeasance in public office".

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