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DUP leader Peter Robinson unequivocally denies any link to alleged £7m Nama property deal

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 07/07/2015

Ian Coulter, centre, with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness and First Minister Peter Robinson.
Ian Coulter, centre, with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness and First Minister Peter Robinson.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson has denied any link whatsoever with an alleged property deal involving the sale of Nama's portfolio north of the border.

Calls have been growing for a full investigation into the allegations made in the Dail last week when Independent TD Mick Wallace raised concerns over the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland property portfolio to US firm Cerberus Capital Management in April 2014.

Mick Wallace
Mick Wallace

Mr Wallace said Tughans, a Belfast law firm, acted for Cerberus and "a routine audit showed that £7m ended up in an Isle of Man bank account".

The money was in an account controlled by Ian Coulter, a former managing partner at Tughans.

He left the company - which denies any wrongdoing - in January after it found out and retrieved the cash.

However, yesterday the PSNI confirmed officers have yet to receive any reports on the matter.

First Minister Peter Robinson has said he had met with another US investment firm - Pimco - regarding the sale of the portfolio before it was purchased by Cerberus.

A DUP spokesman had said Mr Robinson had been pleased to "meet and greet Pimco representatives" as he highlighted how Northern Ireland is an attractive place to do business.

Mr Robinson has unequivocally and without reservation denied any link whatsoever to the alleged multi-million-pound deal.

TUV leader Jim Allister said he was astounded by the lack of complaints to the PSNI.

"I am amazed," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

He said this came to light in January.

"I would have thought there should have been early police involvement."

It has been reported that the £7m in the Isle of Man bank account was intended to facilitate payments to non-lawyers or deal fixers.

Mr Allister said that, if true, this would constitute a breach of the law.

"It is a criminal offence to pass professional fees to someone other than a lawyer - in other words the very suggestion that has arisen here that fees are dispersed to people who may have done favours," he continued.

Mr Allister said he believed the Law Society should at least as a precaution have acquainted the police with the situation.

The Law Society has previously said that it "does not comment on whether or not there is any investigation ongoing in relation to any particular matter or firm."

In response, Tughans said it was limited in what it could say.

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph it said: "Former managing partner Ian Coulter was involved in the Project Eagle transaction, with Tughans retained by a major US law firm who were representing Cerberus.

"Following internal investigation Tughans voluntarily brought the circumstances leading to Ian Coulter's departure to the attention of the Law Society of Northern Ireland (LSNI).

"Tughans has co-operated fully with LSNI's inquiry. That inquiry is ongoing.

"The firm awaits the outcome of the inquiry before deciding which other agencies should be notified.

"Tughans remains constrained by what it can say. The firm's position is that no part of its professional fee is payable or will be paid to any third party, politician or advisor."

It comes as the Assembly's finance committee prepares to discuss the claims.

It will meet in emergency session this morning.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, committee chair Daithi McKay said the allegations were of "serious nature".

"It is important the committee looks into these claims given the significance of the sale of the Nama assets for the local economy," he said.

Mr McKay said he expects Cerberus to appear before the committee. He also intends to call Nama officials and Mr Wallace.

Tughans could also be summoned to "elaborate on their recent statement on the matter", Mr McKay added.

"These allegations need to be explored as soon as possible in the interests of transparency and accountability," he said.

Four key figures at the centre of the controversy

Mick Wallace

The independent TD sparked the controversy with his claim in the Dail last Thursday that £7m was in a bank account “reportedly earmarked for a politician”. After graduating from UCD and obtaining a teaching degree in 1983, Mr Wallace went into the construction industry, but took a hit in the Republic’s property crash. He was elected to Dail Eireann in 2011 and has campaigned against austerity, drug policy and discrimination against women. In 2012 it emerged he had made a seven-figure settlement for under-payment of VAT. Mr Wallace admitted that he had knowingly made false declarations to the authorities, but escaped prosecution and held on to his Dail seat.

Ian Coulter

A former head of the CBI in Northern Ireland, Ian Coulter quit as managing partner of Belfast-based law firm Tughans earlier this year.

He joined the practice in 1997 and had been a partner since 2001, before becoming its managing partner five years ago.

Mr Coulter is a corporate finance lawyer specialising in international mergers and acquisitions.

In 2012 he became chair of the CBI and was instrumental in negotiations to secure a lower corporation tax rate.

According to his LinkedIn profile, he is also a member of Ulster Rugby’s commercial committee and a founder member of the Riddell Hall school of management at Queen’s University.

Frank Cushnahan

A well-known businessman, Frank Cushnahan served on Nama’s Northern Ireland advisory committee. He has held a number of executive and non-executive positions in the private and public sectors. He was also chairman of the now defunct East Belfast maintenance firm Red Sky. Mr Cushnahan was awarded a CBE for his services to the Northern Ireland economy. He was due to serve on Nama’s northern advisory committee until April 15, 2014, but stepped down several months beforehand.

It is claimed Mr Cushnahan, along with Mr Coulter, had been involved in trying to set up the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland portfolio to Pimco, a US investment firm.

Brian Rowntree

The former head of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive also served on Nama’s NI advisory committee.

Mr Rowntree resigned as the Housing Executive chairman three years ago.

His departure came ahead of a critical report into multi-million pound repair contracts, after allegations of over-charging by Red Sky.

Mr Rowntree had served on Nama’s NI advisory committee since its inception, and was reappointed for a further two years in June 2012.

He has also been an independent member of the Policing Board since 2011.

In 2004 Mr Rowntree was awarded the CBE for his services to criminal justice.

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