Belfast Telegraph

Nama witnesses will be forced to give evidence at Stormont hearings into property deal

By Shane Phelan

Key figures in the controversy over the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loans portfolio will be compelled to give evidence at Stormont hearings if they refuse to attend voluntarily.

Neither Belfast solicitor Ian Coulter nor former Nama advisor Frank Cushnahan has responded to requests to attend the Assembly's finance committee.

Nama chairman Frank Daly also indicated last week he would not be attending hearings at Stormont as the agency is answerable to committees at Dublin's Leinster House.

However, Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay, who chairs the finance committee, said it would exercise its powers of 'compellability' if key witnesses refused to attend.

The committee is due to begin its hearings on the £1.2bn sale of the Project Eagle portfolio later this week.

A police investigation was launched after it emerged some £7m was found in an account controlled by Mr Coulter in the Isle of Man. The solicitor and his former law firm, Tughans, acted for two bidders for the loan portfolio.

Independent TD Mick Wallace, who also said he would not give evidence to the Assembly committee, told the Dail the money had been reportedly earmarked for a Northern Irish politician or party.

Nama claimed last week that global investment firm Pimco disclosed how it planned to pay Mr Cushnahan £5m in consultancy fees if it was successful in its bid for the portfolio - although Pimco disputes Nama's version of events. A rival company, Cerberus, secured the portfolio in April of last year.

The first witnesses in the hearings, representatives of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, will give evidence on Thursday. Representatives of Tughans have agreed to give evidence at a date to be decided.

The Law Society has been investigating the conduct of Mr Coulter since February. He resigned as managing partner at Tughans the previous month.

The law firm said the £7m in the Isle of Man account was diverted fees which had since been retrieved. Law Society chief executive, Alan Hunter, said its inquiry was still ongoing and was dealing with "very complex" issues.

Members of the committee are expected to ask why the society did not go to the police when it started investigating Mr Coulter. The solicitor is currently unable to practise in Northern Ireland as his practising certificate was not renewed earlier this year.

The committee is likely to steer clear of issues which may be central to the police inquiry.

However, it will not be precluded from examining Mr Cushnahan's appointment to Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee or a memorandum of understanding apparently agreed between Stormont and Pimco which would have provided favourable terms for Nama debtors.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph