Belfast Telegraph

Nama team to quiz TD Mick Wallace over Northern Ireland land deal claims in Dail

Mick Wallace, independent TD for Wexford
Mick Wallace, independent TD for Wexford
Peter Robinson
Simon Hamilton

By Yvette Shapiro

Investigators from the National Crime Agency probing the controversial Nama Northern Ireland land deal, Project Eagle, are to travel to Dublin to interview the independent TD Mick Wallace.

It was Mr Wallace's bombshell allegations in the Dail that led to a series of cross-border inquiries.

In July, he claimed that a Northern Ireland politician was to benefit from £7m in an offshore bank account in the wake of the £1bn deal. However, he has yet to state any names.

Belfast solicitor Ian Coulter, formerly of leading Belfast law firm Tughans, had transferred the funds to the account, but has denied that any of the money in the Isle of Man account was intended for any politician.

Mr Coulter said he had ordered the money to be transferred to the Isle of Man account for "a complex, commercially and legally-sensitive" reason.

He said that no politician, nor any relative of any politician, was ever to receive any money. The money moved to the Isle of Man was later retrieved by Tughans.

Following Mr Wallace's claims, the PSNI confirmed that it had launched an investigation.

It then called in the National Crime Agency (NCA) which has now taken the lead in the inquiry.

Officers are due to interview the Wexford TD at the Dail tomorrow, following his return from holiday.

They are expected to ask him if he is prepared to disclose further information and if he will name the politician he referred to in his Dail speech. Speaking to RTE last month, Mr Wallace said: "I could have named the politician that was speculated was ear-marked for the £7m, but because I wasn't 100% certain I didn't use his name in the Dail because if I was wrong then I would have done him a serious injustice. When I am more confident that I am 100% sure that what I am saying is correct then I will let that out too".

NCA's team of eight officers are poring over documents relating to the land deal, the biggest in the history of Northern Ireland.

The investigation could last up to a year and it will be some weeks yet before officers are ready to conduct formal interviews with some of the main players in this controversy, including the partners of Tughans, Ian Coulter and the businessman Frank Cushnahan, a former member of Nama's NI Advisory Committee.

During a hearing last month of the Dail's powerful Public Accounts Committee, Nama claimed that Mr Cushnahan had been in line for a £5m fee for his work as an adviser to another US investment firm, Pimco, which had also bid for Nama's Northern property portfolio. Pimco eventually withdrew from the bidding process.

It's understood that representatives for Tughans, Mr Coulter and Mr Cushnahan have contacted the NCA to offer their full co-operation with the investigation. All deny any wrongdoing.

NCA investigators recently met the chair of the Assembly's Finance Committee, Daithi McKay. The committee has launched its own inquiry into the allegations but following concerns that its hearings could potentially prejudice the criminal investigation, it is unlikely to call Mr Coulter, Mr Cushnahan or Tughans.

It's understood officers will seek meetings with First Minister Peter Robinson and his DUP colleagues, the former Finance Ministers Simon Hamilton and Sammy Wilson.

During his time as Finance Minister, Mr Wilson recommended the appointment of Frank Cushnahan as a Nama Northern Ireland adviser, and he later wrote to the Republic's Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, about bidders in the Project Eagle deal. Simon Hamilton also raised the matter with Mr Noonan when he took over from Mr Wilson.

It's emerged Mr Robinson held a meeting with representatives of Cerberus - the investment firm that bought Nama's Northern Ireland property portfolio - shortly before the completion of the land deal. Mr Robinson, Mr Wilson and Mr Hamilton deny they have done anything wrong or engaged in any inappropriate contact.

Belfast Telegraph


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