Belfast Telegraph

£1.3bn sale of Nama property was the right thing, says Peter Robinson

By Adrian Rutherford

Peter Robinson has defended Northern Ireland's biggest ever property deal amid fresh allegations that it was corrupt and a "dirty scheme".

The DUP leader said the £1.3 billion sale of Nama assets was "the right thing to do".

It came as he appeared before a committee of MLAs examining claims of political pay-offs linked to the deal.

Mr Robinson again strongly denied that he was to personally benefit from the sale.

He described allegations by loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson that he was to receive a "success fee" as "outrageous and groundless".

Stormont's finance committee is examining claims surrounding the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland assets in April 2014.

The 850-property portfolio - known as Project Eagle - was sold to US investment firm Cerberus Capital Management for £1.3bn.

The deal is being investigated by the National Crime Agency after explosive allegations made in the Dail by Mick Wallace.

The independent TD alleged that £7m was due to be paid to a Northern Ireland politician following the sale.

Last month Mr Bryson alleged that Mr Robinson was among five people to receive a share of a "success fee" linked to the deal.

Yesterday, Mr Robinson said the allegation lacked "a shred of evidence".

"For the record, I repeat, I neither received, expected to receive, sought, nor was I offered a single penny as a result of the Nama sale," he said.

"I am offended by the allegation but, given its source, hardly surprised.

"Any and all efforts that I made were motivated by what was in the best interests of our economy."

Mr Robinson said it would have been a dereliction of his duty not to seek to protect the position of Northern Ireland.

Nama is the so-called "bad bank" set up by the Irish Government during the financial crash, taking at-risk loans off the books of bailed-out lenders.

Its Northern Ireland loan-book comprised 850 properties.

The £1.3bn sale price represented a significant write-down on assets which were once valued at a collective £4.5bn.

Yesterday, Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir claimed Nama did not achieve the best price. "Rather than being the deal of the century, this is very clearly a corrupt deal," he said.

He said the role of Frank Cushnahan represented "one of the most egregious conflicts of interest" he had ever encountered.

Mr Cushnahan became involved in a bid for the Nama portfolio in January 2014 - two months after resigning from his role with its Northern Ireland advisory committee.

In July, it emerged the businessman was due £5m in "acquisition fees" linked to a bid from Pimco, a US-based global fund manager.

Mr Robinson said he only became aware of this when Nama chairman Frank Daly gave evidence to the Dail's Public Accounts Committee in July.

He was repeatedly asked about Mr Cushnahan and Ian Coulter, a former managing partner of Belfast-based law firm Tughans.

Mr Coulter controlled an off-shore account where a fee allegedly linked to the Nama deal was paid.

The DUP leader said he knew both men as "pillars of the establishment". Both, he added, were motivated by the best interests of Northern Ireland.

"Do you feel disappointed in those two men?" Mr O Muilleoir asked.

Mr Robinson replied: "You invite me to reach conclusions. I am not investigating, I am not on your inquiry - it is up to you to reach your conclusions."

Mr O Muilleoir said the deal had been compromised and the Irish taxpayer was left worse off and carrying a bigger cost than they should have done.

"That's why I call it a dirty scheme," he said.

However, Mr Robinson responded: "If the role of the committee is to establish facts, it is better that the members of the committee do not in advance decide what the outcome is going to be and then try and retro-fit the evidence to what their conclusions were."

He added: "I believe the deal, whatever the issues that have clouded the issue... the outcome was beneficial for the people of Northern Ireland."

Mr Robinson was asked about comments from party colleague Paul Girvan - since moved off the committee by the DUP - who branded the deal "a dirty scheme".

Again, Mr Robinson refused to be drawn, saying it was for the committee to form judgment.

MLAs later agreed to request a meeting with David Sterling, who is the permanent secretary in the Department of Finance and Personnel, and Richard Bullick, a special adviser to Mr Robinson.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph