Stormont committee hears claims of ‘illegal conduct in politics and banking’

Prominent NI businessman Gareth Graham pictured (second from Left) leaving Stormont after speaking to the Nama inquiry. 'Picture: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Prominent NI businessman Gareth Graham pictured (second from Left) leaving Stormont after speaking to the Nama inquiry. 'Picture: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
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A businessman’s recordings of telephone conversations reveal an “ingrained culture of inappropriate and possibly illegal conduct” across political, banking, legal and accountancy sectors, a Stormont committee has heard.

Giving evidence to a Stormont inquiry into the National Asset Management Agency’s (Nama) £1billion sale of its Northern Ireland loan portfolio, Gareth Graham said he had hundreds of hours of tapes of phone calls made by Frank Cushnahan – a businessman who worked with him and was later a Nama advisor.

The recordings cover a period to time before Nama was established to address serious problems in Ireland’s banking sector.

Mr Graham, a member of the Sean Graham bookmaker family, told the committee that Mr Cushnahan “was intent on destroying” businesses whose loans were sold by Nama.

However, Mr Cushnahan has previously issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and said he ended his involvement as a director seven years ago.

Mr Cushnahan was later appointed to work with Nama on selling its Northern Ireland properties and his role is under scrutiny by the finance committee.

Mr Graham claimed: “I know from his telephone calls that he was intent on destroying our businesses after he left and while he was in post as our company chairman he had already started to impugn and ruin our reputation.”

He alleged he had taped phone calls made by Mr Cushnahan and claimed his firms were wrongly taken into Nama following his former colleague’s “malevolent” influence.

He said the recordings highlighted the culture of impropriety.

“Frank Cushnahan said ‘thank God I am worth a good few quid elsewhere...my shareholdings will be worth sweet f*** all by the time I am finished’.”

Mr Graham told Stormont watchdog that Mr Cushnahan had retained a five per cent stake in his property companies.

He added: “I consider that the reason that Bank of Ireland took such a harsh view of us is because of Frank Cushnahan’s malevolent influence.”

He claimed Cerberus, the US investment firm which bought Nama loans in Northern Ireland, had been “ruthless, unjust and unreasonable” in demanding repayments of £33 million within 24 hours following a series of brief meetings.

Cerberus then appointed administrators and receivers to his companies.

Mr Graham is fighting a High Court battle in an attempt to win back control of his firms.

The committee has been limited in the questions it can ask as events surrounding the loan sale are being investigated by police.