Belfast Telegraph

Cerberus paid law firm £15m for access to NI Executive, firm's boss tells committee

By Brian Hutton

A US investment fund which sealed the biggest property deal in Northern Ireland's history said it paid a law firm £15m for access to the Stormont government as well as other valuable information.

Cerberus paid £1.2 billion for a massive collection of property loans, taken over by the Irish Republic's toxic assets agency Nama after the economic crash.

Mark Neporent, the firm's chief operating officer, said it paid a multimillion-pound "success fee" to US law firm Brown Rudnick, which made an unsolicited approach to Cerberus about buying the portfolio in April 2014.

"What we were paying for was work they had done over the course of at least a year - not just for two weeks' work - and we were also paying for their access to other stakeholders through local affiliations," he told a parliamentary committee in Dublin.

Asked who, he replied: "The Northern Ireland Executive, people in the Republic."

Mr Neporent said it wanted the access to make sure it was welcome in the region and understood what issues there were locally over the sale of the huge property portfolio.

The Cerberus chief said it also got an understanding of the property loan borrowers and their business plans with the help of Belfast law firm Tughans, which was working with Brown Rudnick.

"We thought it could be very valuable commercial information for us," he said.

Both law firms also helped close the deal, he told the Public Accounts Committee investigating the so-called Project Eagle sale, which has been mired in controversy for more than a year.

Another US company, Pimco, has said it pulled out of an earlier bid weeks before after it was asked for a fixer payment of £16m for three parties behind the scenes.

The money was to be shared equally by Belfast businessman Frank Cushnahan, Brown Rudnick and Ian Coulter, a managing partner of Tughans, Pimco previously told the committee.

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

All parties have denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Neporent said Brown Rudnick told him Pimco pulled out of the sale because of turmoil in the company at the time and because Nama had concerns Mr Cushnahan would become a future Pimco adviser if it won the bid.

"We were not told Mr Cushnahan was working with Tughans before that, we were not told he was intended to be paid," he said.

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