Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Sacking Nama adviser would have stoked political tensions, says agency chairman

Published 24/11/2016

Peter Robinson has declined to appear before the inquiry
Peter Robinson has declined to appear before the inquiry

Sacking a prominent Belfast businessman from his role as a Nama adviser would have stoked political tensions in Northern Ireland, the toxic asset agency's chairman has said.

Nama's Frank Daly was asked before a parliamentary committee investigating its controversial sale of the £1.2 billion Project Eagle portfolio if that meant Frank Cushnahan was protected.

"No, it doesn't mean he was protected," he told Dublin's Public Accounts Committee.

"We would have needed something very solid to remove Mr Cushnahan from (Nama's) Northern Ireland Advisory Committee because there is no doubt at all it would have caused tension up north."

Mr Daly added: "I know when the Deputy First Minister (Martin McGuinness) was here recently, he indicated it wouldn't really have been a problem for him.

"But he was very clear in his evidence that it might have been a problem for others.

"I think that bears it out."

However, Mr Daly said if Nama knew about Mr Cushnahan's alleged involvement in the Project Eagle sale while he was still a Nama adviser then he would been removed - "political sensitivities or not".

He added: "But up until the time he resigned in 2013 we knew absolutely nothing about those activities of his, or alleged activities."

The Project Eagle portfolio of Northern Ireland property loans was bought by US investors Cerberus in April 2014.

Another US company Pimco, a leading bidder, has said it pulled out weeks earlier because it was asked for a fixer payment of £16 million for three parties behind the scenes.

The money was to be shared equally by Mr Cushnahan, US law firm Brown Rudnick and Ian Coulter, a managing partner of Belfast solicitors Tughans, Pimco has said.

Mr Cushnahan was formerly a Nama adviser on Northern Ireland, on the recommendation of the Democratic Unionists.

All parties have denied any wrongdoing.

Former Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson has written to the Dublin inquiry, saying he is not answerable to the hearings and that he has already given evidence to a separate inquiry into the affair at Stormont.

The former DUP leader said the committee could email him if it wants views on any specific issues and he would be happy to respond.

Committee chairman Sean Fleming said much of Mr Robinson's statement to the Stormont hearing "flatly contradicts" evidence given by Mr McGuinness to the Dublin hearing last week.

The inquiry would have to adjudicate on that, he said.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly said she was disappointed at Mr Robinson's refusal to appear.

"I believe it would have been very helpful if Mr Robinson attended," she said.

"We are now placed in a very difficult situation. He has flatly contradicted what the Deputy First Minister said here."

Another key witness, Ronnie Hanna, Nama's former head of asset recovery, has also turned down an invitation to appear before the hearings.

Mr Hanna said he was declining the invite principally because of an ongoing investigation into Project Eagle by the UK's National Crime Agency and the PSNI.

He added that he still has not been released from a duty of confidentiality to Nama.

Mr Daly has disputed claims by Pimco that it told the agency all the details behind its withdrawal from the sale.

The Nama chairman said it was never told Brown Rudnick introduced Mr Cushnahan to Pimco on April 2013 - while he was still a Nama adviser.

Pimco also did not tell them that Mr Cushnahan was one of the organisers of a meeting in May 2013 between Pimco and Mr Robinson and then finance minister Sammy Wilson, said Mr Daly.

He added they were also not told about Pimco being asked for a success fee as early as June 2013.

"Pimco's letter to this committee is materially inaccurate because it states that Pimco provided details of these matters to Nama in a series of calls in March 2014," he said.

"Pimco did not provide these details to Nama in March 2014 or indeed at the time of its indicative offers in September or December 2013.

"At no stage in Nama's extensive engagement with Pimco, from Sept 2013 to March 10 2014, did Pimco inform Nama that Mr Cushnhan was a potential beneficiary of the success fee arrangement proposed to Pimco by Brown Rudnick.

"Only Pimco can explain why they did not tell us about these details and we have written to them asking why none of these details were disclosed to Nama at the time."

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph