23 Sep 2015

DUP’s Peter Robinson ‘to benefit from’ £1.2bn loan sale deal

During a hearing into the conduct of a massive property deal, a witness claims Northern Ireland MP Peter Robinson was in line for a “success fee” payment if the £1.2bn sale went through.

DUP leader Peter Robinson (Reuters)

In April 2014 the US private investment firm Cerberus Capital Management paid 1.2 billion pounds to buy a package of property loans from the Irish National Asset Management Agency (Nama). The conduct of that sale is now the subject of a criminal investigation by the National Crime Agency.

‘Diverted money’

Concerns began to surface in July when a member of the Irish parliament, Mick Wallace, claimed that Belfast solicitors firm Tughans had £7m in a bank account “reportedly earmarked for a politician” after a major property deal.

Mr Wallace told the Irish parliament that “a routine audit showed that £7m ended up in an Isle of Man bank account.”

Tughans said at the time “we can confirm 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,” adding that the person involved, later named as Ian Coulter, had left the firm and the money had been retrieved.

‘Success fee’

On Wednesday high profile Northern Irish blogger Jamie Bryson told a hearing of the Northern Irish Assembly Finance Committee in Belfast that five people had been in line to share a “success fee” linked to the sale, and named DUP leader Peter Robinson as one of them.

Mr Robinson has always denied any wrongdoing, saying that neither he, his party or anyone in his family hoped to benefit “one penny” from the Nama deal, and said he was happy to appear before the same committee.

The other people named by Mr Bryson were developer Andrew Creighton, accountant David Watters, former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan, and solicitor Ian Coulter. All four men have either denied the allegations or are yet to comment.

Mr Bryson alleged that the “success fee was to be paid into a dormant Danske Bank account in the Donegal Square West branch (in Belfast) and from there it was transferred to an off-shore account.”

Compliance alert

Nama has insisted the sale was conducted properly. On 9 July, Nama CEO Brendan McDonagh told the Irish Public Accounts Committe that any wrongdoing was on the part of those advising the bidders, rather than Nama.

Mr Daly also told the committee that in March 2014, during the run-up to the sale, a rival bid by the US investment firm Pimco was aborted after Pimco compliance staff informed Nama that if Pimco clinched the deal, this would trigger a £15m payment to be shared equally between US law firm Brown Rudnick, Belfast law firm Tughans and Frank Cushnahan.

Mr Cushnahan, who has denied any wrongdoing, resigned as a Nama adviser just months before the sale was put out to tender.