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Nama law firm Tughans waited fortnight to report chief

By Shane Phelan

Published 01/09/2015

Controversy: Ian Coulter
Controversy: Ian Coulter

The law firm whose former managing partner is at the centre of investigations into a controversial billion pound-plus Nama property deal delayed contacting regulators until a fortnight after his resignation, it has been revealed.

Company records indicate Ian Coulter resigned from Belfast law firm Tughans 15 days before the Law Society of Northern Ireland was contacted about his conduct.

According to the company, Mr Coulter stepped down after partners discovered he had diverted £7.5m in legal fees to an offshore account without their knowledge.

A document filed with Companies House shows Mr Coulter ceased being a director of a firm associated with the Tughans partnership on January 12.

A parliamentary inquiry into the £1.1bn sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan portfolio heard last week that Tughans first contacted the Law Society about the conduct of Mr Coulter on January 27.

The disclosure raises questions about the law firm's reaction to the matter and why it did not contact the regulator sooner.

When the referral was finally made to the Law Society, it took the matter so seriously that it launched an immediate investigation that remains ongoing.

Neither Tughans nor Mr Coulter have previously disclosed the exact date of his departure.

When contacted, Tughans declined to comment on its delay in going to the Law Society. However, a source close to the law firm insisted it had acted "as promptly as it possibly could".

It is understood the delay was partly due to the company making arrangement for clients to have their portfolios transferred to other partners. Expert advice is also believed to have been sought from legal counsel before the Law Society was contacted.

In his only statement to date on the issue, Mr Coulter denied any wrongdoing and claimed the reasons for the transfer were complex and commercially and legally sensitive. He said he would explain these reasons to "the appropriate authorities".

Mr Coulter added the money was transferred back to Tughans in early December and discussions "to resolve the matter" took place between November and his eventual resignation in January.

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