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Nama probe officers quiz ex-Tughans partner Coulter over cash transfer to Isle of Man

By Margaret Canning

Published 06/11/2015

Ian Coulter (centre) with Martin McGuinness (left) and Peter Robinson
Ian Coulter (centre) with Martin McGuinness (left) and Peter Robinson

Solicitor Ian Coulter has been questioned by National Crime Agency (NCA) police over moving £7.5m to an Isle of Man bank account after the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loans.

Mr Coulter, who attended a police station voluntarily, has become the first figure embroiled in the scandal over Northern Ireland's biggest-ever property sale to be quizzed under caution by detectives from the London-based NCA.

Known as Project Eagle, the deal involved the Republic's 'bad bank' Nama selling loans originally worth £4.5bn relating to Northern Ireland property to US investor fund Cerberus for around £1.2bn.

Nama was set up to cleanse the Irish banking system of bad loans on property after the crash.

The Belfast Telegraph understands Mr Coulter, a former managing partner at law firm Tughans, was questioned under caution with his own solicitor present at Musgrave Police Station in Belfast city centre on Wednesday. He was released without charge.

It is understood that Mr Coulter had indicated to the NCA that he was prepared to be questioned about the reasons over why he moved £7.5m from an account in the name of his legal practice to an Isle of Man bank account.

It has been alleged by Independent TD Mick Wallace in the Republic that the £7.5m was to be divided up between so-called fixers, including politicians as well as professionals such as accountants and property developers.

In July, Mr Coulter said that "the reason for the transfer is a complex, commercially and legally sensitive issue and has been explained to my former partners at Tughans".

He added: "It will be explained to the appropriate authorities and those entitled to that information as part of my continuing cooperation with any investigation."

The Stormont Finance Committee has also held hearings investigating the deal and the £7.5m sum.

Giving evidence to the committee under privilege, loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson alleged in September that property developer Andrew Creighton, accountant David Watters, First Minister Peter Robinson, businessman Frank Cushnahan and Mr Coulter were all to share in a 'success fee' following the deal. But all five have denied any wrongdoing.

Last month, the First Minister told the committee that the suggestion that he was set to receive money from the deal was both "outrageous and groundless".

Mr Coulter's former practice Tughans was subcontracted to advise on the deal by Cerberus' US lawyers, Brown Rudnick, but have denied knowing about Mr Coulter's transfer of £7.5m.

Mr Bryson has also alleged that developer Paddy Kearney was able to secure a 'sweetheart' deal with Nama with the help of Mr Robinson, when he refinanced loans which were held in Cerberus.

But Mr Kearney told the Finance Committee on Wednesday that the claims were "garbage" akin to "graffiti on the wall".

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