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Nama project eagle: Pair facing prosecution over NI's biggest property sale to contest charges

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The National Asset Management Agency building in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

The National Asset Management Agency building in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

PA

The National Asset Management Agency building in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

A Belfast solicitor and ex-Belfast Harbour chairman are to be prosecuted for fraud over Project Eagle - the sale of Nama’s property loans in Northern Ireland.

Ian Coulter (49), a former managing partner of commercial firm Tughans, and Frank Cushnahan (78), former chairman of Belfast Harbour, are to be charged over the £1.2bn sale of the toxic property loans which had been held by the Republic’s bad bank, Nama.

Solicitors for the two men have said they will be contesting the charges.

Joe Rice, who is representing Frank Cushnahan, said: "We are extremely disappointed that the PPS has decided to prosecute. We will be pleading not guilty to both allegations at any forthcoming trial."

John Finucane, who is acting for Mr Coulter, told the BBC that has his client faces "what will undoubtedly be a lengthy court process lasting years... he will maintain his innocence to the offences alleged, as he has throughout this drawn out process".

The sale to US fund Cerberus Capital Management had been Northern Ireland’s biggest-ever property transaction.

Mr Coulter will also face two counts of the offence of concealing criminal property.

Mr Cushnahan will be charged with two counts of fraud, while Mr Coulter faces three counts of fraud - including one joint count with Mr Cushnahan.

The Public Prosecution Service announced on Thursday the decision against the two men after it took over investigations into the deal from the National Crime Agency.

However, another six people who were also investigated by the PPS under the same file will not face charges.

The PPS said: “After consideration of a complex and substantial file submitted by NCA investigators, it has been decided that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute two suspects in connection with alleged activity around the property deal known as Project Eagle.

“A 78-year-old man is to be charged with one count of the offence of fraud, contrary to Section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006 involving a failure to disclose information between 1st April 2013 and 7th November 2013.

“The 78-year-old and a 49-year-old man are also to be jointly charged with one count of fraud, contrary to Section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006 involving a false representation made on or around the 3rd April 2014.”

It’s understood Mr Cushnahan is the 78-year-old referred to by the PPS, while Mr Coulter is the 49-year-old.

The PPS added that the 49-year-old is also charged with two more counts of fraud. One count of fraud, contrary to Section 1 of Fraud Act 2006 involves a false representation made on or around September 11, 2014 while another count involves making an article in connection with a fraud on or about August 13.

There are a further two counts of the offence of concealing criminal property, contrary to Section 327 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 involving concealing, disguising or transferring criminal property between the 15th September 2014 and 1st December 2014.

A total of nine individuals have been considered by the PPS over the sale and attempted sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland property loan book to two US investment firms in 2014.

The PPS said there was not enough evidence to prosecute the six other individuals. A decision was previously taken not to prosecute one suspect in November 2018 arising out of the Project Eagle investigation.

PPS Assistant Director Ciaran McQuillan said: “We have been working in close partnership with the National Crime Agency in respect of its wide-ranging investigation into the sale of Nama’s property loan book in Northern Ireland.

"We would like to take this opportunity to recognise the diligence of the NCA in this investigation and the comprehensive nature of their enquiries.

"A considerable volume of evidence submitted to the PPS has been painstakingly examined by a team of experienced and senior prosecutors, with the benefit of advice from two Senior Counsel. As a result, it has been concluded that there is sufficient evidence for two of those reported to be prosecuted for a number of serious charges.

“Whilst the test for prosecution was met in respect of two suspects, it was considered not met on evidential grounds in respect of seven further individuals with regard to the Project Eagle investigation. All decisions were taken in full accordance with the PPS Code for Prosecutors and only after a thorough consideration of all issues.

“As criminal proceedings will commence in due course and each defendant has the right to a fair trial, it is extremely important to protect the integrity of any future trial that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice those proceedings.”

Belfast Telegraph