Belfast Telegraph

Businessman Gareth Graham withdraws his 'illegal' claim on Nama fund

By Margaret Canning

A top businessman has dramatically withdrawn allegations that the US vulture fund that bought the £1bn Nama portfolio was involved in illegal behaviour.

Bookmaker Gareth Graham has taken out an advertisement in newspapers today to state his regret over harm caused to Cerberus as a result of legal actions he launched against it over Northern Ireland's biggest and most controversial property deal.

Mr Graham had been an outspoken critic of Cerberus, and took the fund to court after it took control of his companies.

That action has now been resolved, with Mr Graham paying costs to the fund.

In an astonishing new twist to the Nama controversy, the businessman has also publicly distanced himself from allegations that 'fixers' were paid illegal finders' fees in the deal, known as Project Eagle.

The Nama Northern Ireland saga has embroiled Finance Ministers north and south of the border, as well as top lawyers and accountants.

Mr Graham had previously told a Stormont committee investigating the Project Eagle deal that he has recorded business phone calls which allegedly show an "ingrained culture of inappropriate and possibly illegal conduct" across political, banking, legal and accountancy sectors.

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During previous court hearings in his case against Cerberus his barrister had argued that the Northern Ireland loan book deal in 2014 would be rendered illegal if any third party fixers were wrongly involved.

A Press release issued by Mr Graham's solicitor last year said that the businessman had spoken to the National Crime Agency and was waiting to speak to the PSNI "in relation to criminal offences which it is considered have been committed".

It also said that he had complained to the Security and Exchange Commission in the US over the purchase by Cerberus of his assets.

But his public statement says: "Whether at my instigation or other persons or bodies, various criminal and/or regulatory investigations into Project Eagle, and the circumstances surrounding it were commenced in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the USA.

"Following a full and frank dialogue with Cerberus I wish to make plain that the legal proceedings between Cerberus, my business and me have been resolved to the full satisfaction of all parties."

He goes on to state that he regrets any "inadvertent harm that has been caused to Cerberus by his litigation".

He continues: "I wish to distance myself from the grave and serious allegations made against Cerberus and its affiliates regarding alleged illegal payments to 'fixers' since, to the extent that it is possible for me to be, I am content that Cerberus is not (and was not) involved in any illegal conduct.

"I have agreed to meet Cerberus' legal costs in this matter."

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The Belfast Telegraph understands that Mr Graham makes today's public statement on regret in return for regaining control of his property empire, which had passed into the control of Cerberus.

Cerberus had appointed Ernst & Young as administrators to the companies, including Fernhill Properties, which owns apartments and shops at College Court Central in Belfast.

Mr Graham had previously accused the fund in the Assembly of being "unjust, unreasonable and ruthless".

Loans taken out with Bank of Ireland by Mr Graham to fund his business expansion were absorbed into the Republic's bad bank Nama in 2010, then sold to Cerberus in the £1bn deal in 2014.

But Mr Graham took Cerberus to court in July to win back control of his companies - a process which led the parties to start mediation earlier this year.

Also in July, Independent TD Mick Wallace made claims in the Republic's Dail that "fixers' fees" of millions of pounds had been due to be paid to a politician and a solicitor involved in the deal.

Now, at the end of his own proceedings against Cerberus, Mr Graham has been left nursing legal costs likely to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Both sides had engaged top QCs, with Stephen Shaw acting for Cerberus and Monye Anyadike-Danes QC acting for Cerberus subsidiary Promontoria Eagle Ltd.

His statement today also says that he had embarked on the litigation agaisnt Cerberus "in good faith and on the basis of what I then understood to be the position regarding my business".

"With the passage of time, certain matters have become clearer.

"While I reserve my position in relation to other entities connected with Project Eagle, I do not believe that it's possible to maintain my complaints about Cerberus in relation to Project Eagle."

Belfast Telegraph