Nama faces criminal investigation into bribes claims
Ireland's bad bank Nama is facing a criminal investigation after allegations an official sought tens of thousands of euro in bribes from a construction firm.
Using parliamentary privilege in the Dail, Independent TD Mick Wallace claimed the unnamed company was asked for and handed over 30,000 euro (£21,100) in cash so it could be released from the toxic assets agency.
"I know a construction company who wanted to exit out of Nama," he said.
"They asked the manager of the portfolio could this happen, and he said 'yeah, but it will cost you 15,000 in cash, and I want it in a bag'.
"They delivered the money and a few weeks later he demanded the same again, they duly obliged and all was sorted."
Nama's chief executive Brendan McDonagh has written to Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan asking for the force to investigate the claims.
"The allegation, if not investigated as a matter of urgency, casts a shadow over all Nama officers and, accordingly, we will ask that the Deputy's allegation, including any evidence that he may claim to possess, be investigated as a matter of urgency," a spokesman for Mr McDonagh said.
He added that anyone with evidence of criminal wrongdoing was legally obliged to bring it to the attention of the Garda.
The Nama spokesman also described as "categorically false and incorrect" claims by Mr Wallace that Nama knew as far back as January this year about £7 million (10 million euro) paid into an Isle of Man account linked to a massive property deal involving the agency and a US investment giant.
"Nama has already confirmed that the first it knew of this payment which, it is alleged, was connected to individuals in Northern Ireland, was two weeks ago following news reports on the issue," he said.
Mr Wallace said this was just a "small window into the workings" of Nama and "the big loser is the taxpayer in the south".
"Do you know how many barristers, judges, solicitors, top four accountancy firm partners and bankers are in syndicates that have been set up by Goodman Stockbrokers, Anglo Private, Bank of Ireland Private, AIB Private, Davy, Warren and Quinlan, which have transferred to Nama, and which Nama has not enforced, despite personal guarantees being attached?" he asked.
"Nama is responsible for some people being tossed out of their homes, but it looks like some of the great and good of Irish society are blessed with Nama's goodwill."
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Mr Wallace was making very serious claims and should bring any facts to the Dail's Public Accounts Committee, which he said was responsible for Nama's accountability and transparency.
The allegations drew an angry response from the Ceann Comhairle, or house speaker, Sean Barrett, who said the Dail could not be used as a "star chamber" for unsubstantiated claims.
Mr Wallace also stood over a llegations that a Northern Ireland politician was to benefit from £7 million set aside as part of the purchase of Nama's property portfolio in the region.
Late last night, a lawyer at the centre of the affair, Ian Coulter, denied any of the money in an Isle of Man account was intended for any politician.
Responding to the statement in the Dail, Mr Wallace said: "I see Mr Coulter has come out and denied the involvement of a politician.
"Well he would, wouldn't he?"
The Wexford TD added: "I decided to contact my sources this morning and ask them to what degree of certainty they could stand over the involvement of a particular politician.
"The reply was 100% - enough."
Mr Coulter's former Belfast-based law firm Tughans was involved in the £1.1 billion sale of Northern Ireland assets owned by the Dublin government's "bad bank" Nama to US investment firm Cerberus last year.
He said: "No politician, nor any relative of any politician in Northern Ireland, was ever to receive any monies in any way as part of this deal.
"This was never discussed, assumed nor expected."
Nama is the bank set up by the Irish government to clear property loans from bailed out lenders.
It and all private firms involved in the Northern Ireland assets sale have denied wrongdoing.
Mr Coulter is under investigation by the Law Society, which regulates lawyers in Northern Ireland.
He was the managing partner in Tughans law firm but resigned in January this year.
He said he received no personal financial benefit from his work on the transaction or any of the £7.5 million fees.
Money which has been called into question was part of the total legal and consultancy fees agreed as payable by Cerberus to its US lawyers, Brown Rudnick. Cerberus did not engage or pay Tughans directly.
Mr Coulter said he instructed Tughans' finance director to transfer a "portion of the fees" to an "external account which was controlled only by me" in September 2014.
"Not a penny of this money was touched," he said.
"The reason for the transfer is a complex, commercially and legally sensitive issue and has been explained to my former partners at Tughans."
He said the concept of the deal was done by other business people in Northern Ireland, before any involvement of any bidder.
Tughans said it "strongly disagrees" with his version of events surrounding the treatment, discovery and retrieval of the fees and his exit from the practice.
"We voluntarily brought the matter to the attention of the Law Society and will continue to co-operate with any inquiry," it said in a statement.