Alleged corruption in the biggest ever Irish property deal are not being probed by PSNI, leading to pressure for them to become involved.
A day after independent TD Mick Wallace made sensational claims in the Dail about the sale of NAMA’s Northern Ireland loan book, concerns about aspects of the sale of the loans to US ‘vulture fund’ Cerberus intensified as more information became public.
But although there has been confirmation about aspects of Mr Wallace’s key allegation – that £7 million was moved to an Isle of Man bank account during the transaction and was earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician – there has been no proof that the money was indeed intended for a politician, nor the identity of that political figure.
After a day in which political circles were abuzz with rumours and speculation about Thursday’s dramatic allegations in the Dail, several of the key players last night moved to clarify aspects of the affair.
At tea time, a flurry of statements from NAMA, Cerberus and Tughans, the Belfast solicitors’ firm named in the Dail, attempted in each case to state that each body had not acted inappropriately.
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On Thursday, Tughans confirmed 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”.
It said that it had now retrieved the money and he has left the firm.
Yesterday it emerged that the individual in question is Ian Coulter, a leading figure in the Belfast business community and a former chairman of the CBI in Northern Ireland.
On Thursday evening, the News Letter attempted to contact Mr Coulter at the Lagan Construction Group, where he is now believed to be working.
A receptionist said that she would put the call through to his secretary but despite several attempts was unsuccessful.
Emails and phone calls to the Lagan Construction Group’s press officer were not returned and the BBC reported that it had also been unable to contact Mr Coulter.
Yesterday the PSNI said that it had not received a complaint about any aspect of the NAMA deal or financial issues at Tughans and therefore was not investigating the matter.
Last night TUV leader Jim Allister questioned why Tughans had not reported the matter to the PSNI.
The firm responded that after it uncovered the issue it had contacted the Law Society “as soon as practicable” and added: “Tughans now awaits the outcome of this investigation before deciding which other agencies should be notified.”
Mr Allister urged the police to get involved and tabled a written question to the First and Deputy First Ministers.
There were similar press releases yesterday from every party which is a member of the Stormont Executive — except the DUP.
Instead, the DUP briefly set out its position in response to a News Letter query on Thursday night: “This is a serious allegation and those with information should be giving it to the authorities for a full investigation.”
The Sinn Fein chairman of Stormont’s Finance Committee, Daithi McKay, said that he was recalling the committee from its summer recess for an emergency hearing which is expected at the start of next week.
Significantly, Mr McKay — whose committee has the legal power to compel witnesses — said that he would expect representatives of Cerberus, NAMA and Mr Wallace to attend the hearing.
Yesterday NAMA, the Republic’s ‘bad bank’, also moved to rebut rumours that it had not sold its Northern Ireland loan book to the highest bidder.
A NAMA spokesman said: “NAMA, in line with its general policy on asset and loan sales, appointed Lazard, a major international investment bank, in January 2014 to advise on and oversee the sales process for Project Eagle.
“Based on its assessment of the market, Lazard invited nine major global investment groups to participate in the process.
“Following a competitive sales process, Cerberus Capital Management emerged as the highest bidder for the portfolio.
“In that context, NAMA is fully satisfied that the Project Eagle sales process delivered the best possible return that could have been achieved for Irish taxpayers.
“The proposed sale to Cerberus was announced in April 2014 and completed in June 2014.”
In a later statement last night, NAMA added: “Prior to confirming Cerberus as its preferred bidder, NAMA sought and received confirmation from Cerberus that no fee was payable by Cerberus to any person connected with NAMA in relation to any aspect of the Project Eagle sales process.
“NAMA is fully satisfied, having taken advice from Lazard, that the process delivered the best possible return that could have been achieved for Irish taxpayers.”
Lazard did not respond to a request for comment.
Cerberus also said in a statement that it had never directly employed Tughans; instead the Belfast firm had been employed by Cerberus’s lawyers Brown Rudnick.
It added: “We want to make it clear that no improper or illegal fees were paid by us or on our behalf and we take any allegation to the contrary extremely seriously.”
Tughans said that it “remains constrained as to what it can say”, but added: “The firm’s position, however, is that no part of its professional fee is payable or will be paid to any third party, politician or advisor.”