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Robinson denies Nama deal benefit

Published 10/07/2015

Peter Robinson insisted any Stormont Executive minister involved in the deal was motivated only to get the best deal for Northern Ireland
Peter Robinson insisted any Stormont Executive minister involved in the deal was motivated only to get the best deal for Northern Ireland

Stormont's First Minister Peter Robinson has insisted he's aware of no evidence that any politician from any party in Northern Ireland was trying to profit from a controversial billion pound-plus property deal.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) is leading an investigation into the £1.1 billion sale of Northern Ireland assets owned by the Dublin government's "bad bank" Nama to a US investment firm last year.

The probe was triggered following explosive allegations levelled in the Irish parliament last week by independent TD Mick Wallace.

Using parliamentary privilege, Mr Wallace alleged that £7 million in an Isle of Man account linked to the deal was "reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or political party".

Mr Robinson today insisted that any Stormont Executive minister involved in the deal was motivated only to get the best deal for Northern Ireland, by stimulating the private sector and reinvigorating the stalling construction trade.

He also branded unsubstantiated allegations circulating on the internet claiming he and his son Gareth were set to profit from the deal as the work of "trolls and village idiots".

"The only thing that any politician that I know in Northern Ireland got out of this was to see the builders cranes moving again, to see jobs in the construction industry, to see our economy getting some growth," he said.

"Those are the only things that any politicians would be interested in. Of course you can have allegations made, but there is no substance to the allegation."

The DUP leader added: "There is nothing that I have seen that substantiates those allegations in relation to the DUP or any other party. There were about five ministers who would have been involved to some extent in these matters. The interests of every one of them was to get the best deal for Northern Ireland.

"They would have been pilloried if they hadn't been looking after the Northern Ireland interest in these matters, so I don't think there is anything that anybody has anything to worry about.

"That's why I welcome the fact that the NCA is looking at the matter and we can get a clear response at the end of that investigation."

Nama is the bank set up by the Irish government to clear property loans from bailed out lenders. It sold its 850 property loans in Northern Ireland to US private equity firm Cerberus last year.

Mr Wallace's allegations in the Dail last Thursday related to the role one of Northern Ireland's major law firms, Tughans, played in the deal.

The Wexford TD claimed the money in the offshore account was discovered during a routine internal audit by the Belfast solicitors following their work for Cerberus.

Senior partners at Tughans said the money was diverted without their knowledge and has since been retrieved.

Nama and all private firms and legal practices involved in the Northern Ireland assets sale have denied wrongdoing.

In regard to the internet allegations against him and his son, Mr Robinson claimed suing was not an option, as those behind them had no material wealth.

"You get the trolls and the village idiots of social media who come out and make all sorts of allegations knowing they haven't got a brass farthing in order to be sued," he said.

"There are people with very little credibility, actually with no credibility at all, so you don't concern yourself that people are going to actually form their opinion around what they are saying.

"But it is obviously annoying that there is this gap in the way social media works and I think it has to be plugged in the long term that people can say anything and because they don't have any substance they can get away with it effectively."

Mr Robinson's son has denied any wrongdoing.

His politician father said today: "At the end of the day he has made his position clear and he's a big boy, he can look after himself and will do."

Attention has been focused on a meeting Peter Robinson held with Cerberus officials days before the deal last year. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said he was not aware of the encounter.

Mr Robinson today said any suggestion of it being a "secret" meeting was "sensationalist".

"When you have a private meeting on a confidential basis with somebody because of the commerciality of the issue it doesn't become a secret meeting," he said.

A parliamentary committee in Dublin yesterday heard Nama chiefs claim that some £5 million was to be paid to a former adviser of Ireland's bad-bank by another US investment fund if it won the bidding war for the portfolio.

In an explosive revelation, Nama representatives said Frank Cushnahan was named by US financiers Pimco over a three-way split of a £15m pot for getting the billion pound deal over the line last year.

The others in line for payment were Brown Rudnick, the American legal firm acting for the investors, and Tughans.

Mr Robinson said there was no talk of fees during any of the meetings he was involved with regarding the sale.

"That's private business, nothing to do with me," he said. "Nothing as vulgar as what people were getting in fees was ever discussed at any meeting I was present at.

"I have to say probably most people will be saying to themselves they have chosen the wrong career path if those are the kind of fees you can get.

"But I suspect this isn't the kind of deal that will be coming along very regularly for any practice."

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