Lawyer Ian Coulter ends silence over his role in £1.3bn Nama property deal
The solicitor at the centre of claims that millions of pounds linked to the £1.3bn sale of Nama's Northern Ireland property portfolio has said he returned the money untouched.
Ian Coulter has broken his silence to deny that any politician - or their relative - was to receive any of the £7.5m transferred to an Isle of Man bank account under his control.
The money was the fee paid by New York law company Brown Rudnick to Belfast legal firm Tughans, where Mr Coulter had been a partner, for its work on the Nama deal. Mr Coulter, a former CBI Northern Ireland chairman, said in a statement he would co-operate with investigations into the complex property deal.
Independent TD Mick Wallace had claimed in the Dail that part of the £7.5m fee was "earmarked" for a Northern Ireland politician.
But Mr Coulter insisted: "No politician, nor any relative of any politician in Northern Ireland, was ever to receive any monies in any way as part of this deal. This was never discussed, assumed nor expected,"
And he added: "Not a penny of this money was touched."
In April 2014 Nama agreed to sell its Northern Ireland portfolio - made up of distressed loans on 850 properties once valued at more than £4.5bn - for £1.3bn to international investment company Cerberus. Brown Rudnick acted for Cerberus, and Tughans provided local legal support for the New York lawyers.
Mr Coulter said: "Through Tughans I was formally engaged to provide the required local counsel to Brown Rudnick.
"This was a commercial arrangement with Brown Rudnick, for which fees were discussed and agreed."
After the deal went through, around £7m was transferred to the offshore account solely in the control of Mr Coulter.
"The fees payable were paid into a Tughans company account supervised by the firm's finance team," said Mr Coulter. "In September 2014, a portion of the fees was retained by Tughans and I instructed Tughans' finance director to transfer the remaining portion into an external account which was controlled only by me. Not a penny of this money was touched."
However, Mr Coulter did not offer an immediate explanation for the transfer. "The reason for the transfer is a complex, commercially - and legally - sensitive issue and has been explained to my former partners at Tughans. It will be explained to the appropriate authorities and those entitled to that information as part of my continuing co-operation with any investigation," he said.
Mr Coulter also disputed claims that the money had been "discovered" or "retrieved" by the Law Society or Tughans during an audit. "In fact, I transferred the money back to Tughans in early December 2014, and I brought this to their attention," he said.
"I have not received any personal financial benefit for my work on this transaction. Neither I nor any third party has received any part of the £7.5m fees."
Mr Coulter said that contrary to reports, he has not been asked to attend either Stormont's finance committee or Dublin's Public Accounts Committee.
Nama and all private firms involved in the Northern Ireland assets sale have denied wrongdoing. Stormont, the Law Society and the National Crime Agency are all investigating the issue.
Tughans issued the following statement in response: "Tughans notes the assertions made by Ian Coulter. The firm strongly disagrees with his version of events surrounding the treatment, discovery and retrieval of the professional fees and his exit from the practice and it has passed all documentation relating to this to the Law Society.
"Tughans voluntarily brought the matter to the attention of the Law Society and will continue to co-operate with any inquiry."
Ian Coulter is a corporate finance lawyer, and was formerly managing partner at leading Northern Ireland law firm Tughans. He joined Tughans in 1997, becoming a partner in 2001 and managing partner in 2008. He specialises in mergers and acquisitions, often with an international or cross border element. A former chairman of the CBI in Northern Ireland, he is also a founder member of the Riddell Hall School of Management at Queen's University.