Cerebrus case may go to mediation, court told

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A Belfast businessman’s legal battle with US investment fund Cerberus may go to mediation, the High Court heard today.

The development emerged as a trial date for the action involving Gareth Graham was put back to May next year.

Mr Graham is a director and major shareholder in STH 500 and Lehill Properties, which own a number 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 £1 billion.

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 and never missed a repayment.

In September 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.

During previous court hearings his barrister argued that the Northern Ireland loan book deal would be rendered illegal if any third party “fixers” were wrongly involved.

With police now said to be investigating a complaint made by the businessman, efforts have been made to ensure the civil proceedings do not prejudice those inquiries.

In court today discussions centred on separating out the allegations of illegal conduct from the challenge to the firms being put into administration.

Stephen Shaw QC, for Cerberus vehicle Promontoria Eagle Ltd, stressed that any “fixers” had nothing to do with his client.

“They are strangers to us,” he emphasised.

Mr Shaw also confirmed he had been instructed: “My client will go to mediation.”

If the process does take place it may resolve all matters, the barrister added.

Monye Anyadike-Danes QC, for Mr Graham, also suggested the form of alternative dispute resolution could take place in January - when the court action was originally scheduled to get underway.

Mr Justice Horner agreed to re-list it for a hearing in May. He will decide before then whether to hold a split trial separating the allegations.

Before rising the judge told the parties: “All I can say is good luck with the mediation.”