A sum of £7 million was moved to an offshore bank account and earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician as part of the largest property deal in the history of the Province, the Dail has been told.
The extraordinary allegation by independent TD Mick Wallace, made under the legal privilege of the Republic’s Parliament, centres on the sale of the Northern Ireland loan book of NAMA, the Republic’s ‘bad bank’, just over a year ago.
The deal saw Cerberus, the US so-called ‘vulture fund’, buy loans with an original value of £4.5 billion for around £1.4 billion.
There have been growing concerns about how Cerberus has been operating in Northern Ireland since taking control of the 850 assets and one of the fund’s creditors was before the High Court yesterday in connection with how the fund is behaving.
A Belfast law firm named in the Dail denied any wrong doing as part of the massive deal.
On Thursday Mr Wallace told the Dail that he was concerned at Stormont’s appointment and reappointment of two Northern Ireland representatives – Brian Rowntree and Frank Cushnahan – to the NAMA board.
He said: “In June 2012, following consultation with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and Mr Sammy Wilson MLA, NAMA reappointed Mr Frank Cushnahan and Mr Brian Rowntree to the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee.
“Two weeks later, a report by a Northern Ireland auditor’s office seriously questioned the stewardship of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which led to the resignation of Brian Rowntree and Frank Cushnahan.
“The report found breaches of Housing Executive guidelines in the sale of at least 27 land deals, the Executive board being given wrong or no information relating to key property deals, favoured property speculators were allowed to buy land well under market value, expressions of interest from other parties not being declared or considered, and at times no reasons being offered for some off-market sales.
“These two individuals stayed in NAMA, one of them up until the summer of 2014. Does the Tánaiste think this was a good idea?”
Mr Wallace went on: “The legal firm acting for Cerberus Capital Management, which purchased the Northern Ireland loan portfolio for €1.5 billion, was Tughans of Belfast. It has been reported that during a routine audit...”
The Speaker intervened to say “this is not an inquisition” and warned the TD against using the Dail “to make cases against people who are not here to defend themselves”.
And, in a seeming reference to the courts, Speaker Sean Barrett added: “There are other places to make such charges but not in the House where people are not here to defend themselves. I do not know anything about those people but there is a rule and I have to apply the rules.”
Mr Wallace then went on: “Does the Tánaiste have any concerns that a routine audit of a solicitor’s firm that looked after the deal where €4.5 billion of assets were sold for €1.5 billion, with a massive loss for the Irish taxpayer?
“The routine audit showed that £7 million ended up in an Isle of Man bank account ...[the Speaker interjected] ... It was reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or...”
At that point, Mr Wallace was cut off.
Both the Speaker and the Tanaiste urged Mr Wallace to go to the Garda with his allegations.
The Tanaiste said: “There have been three special reports on NAMA’s activities by the Comptroller and Auditor General and they have been broadly positive in their assessment of how NAMA is managing what is a very complex business.”
She said that she was not familiar “with the details of the particular case the Deputy outlined”.
The Belfast law firm Tughans responded to the extraordinary allegations.
In a statement, the firm denied that it had acted improperly: “Tughans’ duties of confidentiality to its clients are absolute and we do not comment on internal affairs.
“In response to the comments made today in the Dail we can confirm, however, that a former partner diverted to an account of which he was the sole beneficiary professional fees due to the firm without the knowledge of the partners.
“We have since retrieved the money and he has left the practice.
“Tughans reported the circumstances of the departure of the former partner to the Law Society.
“The practice is not linked to any political party nor has it ever made party political donations.”
A DUP spokesman said: “This is a serious allegation and those with information should be giving it to the authorities for a full investigation.”