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Nama: Belfast law firm Tughans £7.5m fee for fortnight's work

By Shane Phelan

Published 17/09/2015

Ian Coulter, ex-managing partner of Tughans
Ian Coulter, ex-managing partner of Tughans
Mairtin O Muilleoir
Blogger Jamie Bryson

Belfast law firm Tughans did just two or three weeks work on the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loans portfolio in return for a £7.5m fee, according to a member of a parliamentary inquiry.

US vulture fund Cerberus told a Stormont committee investigating the deal that Tughans was engaged by US lawyers working on its behalf "on a success fee only basis".

In a written submission to the Assembly's committee on finance and personnel, it said the fees had been known to Nama in advance of the deal being struck in April last year.

Responding to the disclosure, committee member Mairtin O Muilleoir said it raised questions about the nature of the service Tughans provided to Cerberus, which bought the Project Eagle portfolio from Nama for around £1.2bn.

"We do know that Tughans did around two or three weeks work on this for a payment of £7.5m and it begs the question - what possibly could Tughans have done to secure success for the Cerberus bid in two weeks?" he said.

He said "the answer that springs to mind" is that Tughans advised them on the correct amount to bid for the portfolio, but said this needed to be clarified by Cerberus.

The UK's National Crime Agency is investigating allegations that politicians had been due to benefit from the deal after it emerged the £7.5m had been moved to an Isle of Man account under the control of Tughans' then managing partner Ian Coulter.

Mr Coulter has denied any impropriety, saying the reasons for the transfer were complex, as well as being commercially and legally sensitive and would be explained to "the appropriate authorities".

Representatives of Cerberus had agreed to appear before the committee next week.

But yesterday, Liam Strong, chief executive of Cerberus European Capital Advisors, wrote to the committee saying it had decided not to appear. He cited legal advice, saying Cerberus did not want to compromise the criminal investigation.

In a written submission to the inquiry, Cerberus said it was "deeply concerned by allegations and inferences" made at the committee, in the Dail and in the media.

It said Cerberus had "no first -hand information" regarding Mr Coulter's actions after the fees had been paid or Tughans' treatment of those funds.

The submission added that Cerberus was "committed to high ethical standards in the conduct of its business".

"Cerberus is satisfied that no improper or illegal payments have been made by Cerberus or any of its affiliates in connection with the Project Eagle portfolio and Cerberus did not direct or authorise anyone to make such payments on its behalf," it said.

Background

The finance committee has taken a decision that could see some witnesses giving evidence behind closed doors. MLAs backed an Alliance proposal that witnesses must prove a "direct link" to those involved in the Nama deal if their evidence is to be heard in public. Those who can't prove such a link will be heard in private. It means both loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will be asked to prove they have such a direct link before giving evidence.

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