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What we know so far about £7m Nama deal and what has still to emerge

By Staff Reporter

Published 07/07/2015

Q. What is the controversy about?

A. It is alleged that a Northern Ireland politician stood to benefit from the fire-sale of Nama's northern property portfolio. Comprising around 850 properties, it was bought in April 2014 by Cerberus Capital Management, a US investment firm. The £1.3bn price tag was less than a third of the portfolio's £4.5bn face value. Yet it was still the biggest ever property deal in Northern Ireland's history. Last week independent TD Mick Wallace raised concerns over the sale. He named Tughans, a Belfast law firm, as having acted for Cerberus and said "a routine audit showed that £7m ended up in an Isle of Man bank account". Mr Wallace added: "It was reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician."

Tughans has strenuously denied any wrong-doing.The company confirmed that a former partner diverted professional fees to an account without its knowledge. That ex-partner is Ian Coulter, Tughans' former managing director.

The BBC reported the £7m in the Isle of Man bank account was intended to facilitate payments to non-lawyers or deal fixers.

Q. Who is the politician?

A. That is the $64,000 - or rather £7m - question. Mr Wallace believes he knows their identity, although he has hinted it is based on speculation.

Some politicians have come forward to say they are not involved. On Thursday night Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt stated categorically that he was not the intended recipient. The next day First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson also confirmed that he would not have profited from the Nama sale.

Q. What do we know about the £7m?

A. The payment was made by Brown Rudnick, a US law firm which represented Cerberus. Tughans provided advice on the deal, and is said to have been paid the money for its work. The money was then diverted into an Isle of Man account by Mr Coulter.

Tughans said the money was "professional fees due to the firm" and has since been retrieved.

The BBC, quoting unnamed sources, reported that the Law Society of Northern Ireland has been unable to establish the work which led to the £7m payment.

Q. Where does Pimco fit into things?

A. Pimco is another US investment firm which considered acquiring Nama's NI portfolio before its eventual sale last April. In a statement Pimco said it was contacted on "an unsolicited basis by third parties with a proposal relating to the potential purchase". It did not identify the third parties.

Mr Coulter and Frank Cushnahan, a Nama Northern Ireland adviser until November 2013, had reportedly been involved in trying to set up the sale of the portfolio to Pimco.

Q. So what happens next?

A. The Assembly's finance committee is meeting today at 10am. The emergency session will look at the sale of Nama assets in Northern Ireland.

Mr Wallace could also raise the issue at leader's questions in the Dail today.

Belfast Telegraph

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