One of Northern Ireland’s most senior business figures has been secretly recorded accepting a bag of bank notes and then urging the man who gave it to him to lie about the incident to the police.
Frank Cushnahan – a well-connected former chairman of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners who last year was described by the then first minister Peter Robinson as a “pillar of the establishment” – is facing numerous questions after the emergence of the recordings.
In an hour-long BBC Spotlight exposé on Tuesday night, Mr Cushnahan was heard receiving £40,000 in cash from property developer John Miskelly who carried it in a bag to Mr Cushnahan’s blue Jaguar car when they met at the entrance to Belfast City Hospital on August 17 2012.
Mr Miskelly is heard saying: “There’s £40,000 in that and it’s in bundles of two, Frank”. The money was paid in a bid by Mr Miskelly – whose property empire had been swallowed by the Republic’s publicly-owned ‘bad bank’ Nama – to ease his financial problems.
At the time, Mr Cushnahan was a member of Nama’s Northern Ireland advisory committee and precluded from working for those with assets held by Nama.
Last year, the former finance minister Sammy Wilson – who recommended Mr Cushnahan for the Nama position – said he “respected” him and “counted him as a friend”.
Veteran financial journalist Ian Fraser described the transaction as “totally corrupt”.
During the meeting, Mr Cushnahan told the developer – who recorded his contacts with Mr Cushnahan over several years – that he got a “real kick” out of doing deals.
The men had been introduced by Gareth Robinson, son of Peter Robinson.
In another secretly recorded conversation, Mr Cushnahan said that he had paid £5,000 to Gareth Robinson but Mr Cushnahan told the developer not to give Mr Robinson any more money as he wasn’t involved in what they were discussing and that he would give Mr Robinson something out of any refinancing deal.
Mr Miskelly told Spotlight that the money was for PR work by Mr Robinson and Spotlight emphasised that there was no evidence that Mr Robinson had acted improperly.
Speaking glowingly about Mr Robinson, Mr Cushnahan was recorded as saying that the former DUP leader’s son had told him that Mr Miskelly was “looking after him” in “other ways”.
Speaking cryptically, he said that “Gareth has played a blinder in some other cases”.
Mr Cushnahan’s lawyer – who could not be contacted last night – told Spotlight that it would be “inappropriate” for him to answer some of Spotlight’s questions due to the ongoing investigation.
Attempt to mislead detectives
Frank Cushnahan was alarmed last year when a criminal inquiry began into the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland loan book.
He was secretly recorded asking Mr Miskelly: “I’m concerned about the police inquiry for me. How would you react if they ask you about me?” and went on to advise Mr Miskelly to lie, saying that he had never handed him money. In another recording, when Mr Miskelly asked him sceptically how it could lead to him ending up in prison, a worried Mr Cushnahan said: “There is I mean, there is every chance that what, these American law thing they’re telling me that there is a potential conspiracy to defraud”.