Belfast Telegraph

Tycoon boosted in bid to win back control of Nama firms

By Alan Erwin

Representatives of a Belfast businessman battling to stop his companies being put into administration are working in shifts 20 hours a day to listen to thousands of hours of taped phone calls, the High Court has heard.

Gareth Graham is a director and major shareholder in STH 500 and Lehill Properties, which own a variety of commercial and residential premises in Belfast.

The firms' loans were among those transferred over to Nama, the Irish Government's so-called bad bank.

Last year US investment fund Cerberus snapped up Nama's entire Northern Ireland portfolio, Project Eagle, in a deal worth more than £1bn.

Mr Graham is now locked in a court fight to try to win back control of his companies. He is challenging Cerberus' right to put them into administration, claiming his businesses were financially strong. Earlier this month he appeared before a Stormont inquiry into the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book. Mr Graham told the committee he has recorded business phone calls which allegedly show an "ingrained culture of inappropriate and possibly illegal conduct" across political, banking, legal and accountancy sectors.

In court yesterday his lawyers asked a judge for another two weeks to complete an examination of the tapes before they have to lodge points of claim to support claims of impropriety.

Monye Anyadike-Danes QC said: "My clients have thousands of hours of telephone conversations to listen to."

No attribution of any suspected illegality was made in court.

Seeking another fortnight to finalise the analysis, Ms Anyadike-Danes added: "They have people listening 20 hours a day in shifts."

The barrister also confirmed her client's concerns have been alerted to the National Crime Agency, PSNI and US law enforcement bodies, and are also set to be referred to authorities in the Republic.

Opposing the move, David Dunlop, for Cerberus entity Promontoria Eagle, urged the judge to press on with the case as it currently stands. But with a trial hearing not due to take place until January, Mr Justice Horner agreed to give Mr Graham's lawyers the two weeks to file claims.

In a separate development, it has emerged that solicitors acting for Belfast businessman Frank Cushnahan have written to the Stormont inquiry to inform it he had been "alarmed" by Mr Graham's evidence and that the recording of the calls was illegal and done without Mr Cushnahan's knowledge.

At the committee, Mr Graham, a former business associate of Mr Cushnahan, said he believed former Nama adviser Mr Cushnahan had set about trying to sell his business so he could cash in on a shareholding.

He alleged Mr Cushnahan held on to the shareholdings after the loans of some companies in the group were placed in Nama but failed to disclose this when he was appointed to the agency's Northern Ireland Advisory Committee in 2010.

However, the letter maintains that Mr Cushnahan gave up the shareholding when he resigned as a director of the Sean Graham bookmakers group in 2008 and no conflict of interest arose.

Belfast Telegraph


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