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TUV leader raises concerns over Wallace allegations

Independent TD Mick Wallace. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

TUV leader Jim Allister has called on the PSNI to investigate claims that £7m may have been earmarked for an unnamed Northern Ireland politician or party following Ireland's biggest ever property sale.

Independent TD Mick Wallace told the Dáil yesterday that a routine audit at leading Belfast legal firm Tughans found that the money had been put in an Isle of Man bank account after hundreds of northern properties owned by the Republic's 'bad bank' NAMA were sold to a US private equity firm.

The portfolio was worth €4.5bn but was sold to Cerberus Capital Management for less than €1.5bn.

Mr Allister last night said the allegations were "disturbing... in particular the suggestion of a corrupt link to a Northern Ireland politician. It is imperative that this matter is thoroughly investigated by all relevant authorities, including the PSNI".

He said he will ask First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness how the matters can be properly investigated.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said that if the allegations are proven to be true, they represent abuse of power on a "previously unimaginable scale".

“We have heard rumours of corruption before, but nothing approaching this quantum.

“For the record, I can state categorically I am not the intended recipient of this alleged £7m.”

A DUP spokesman said: "This is a serious allegation and those with information should be giving it to the authorities for a full investigation."

The Irish News can confirm that the senior legal figure at the centre of the allegations is Ian Coulter, former managing director of Belfast firm Tughans.

Using his Dáil privilege to name Tughans Solicitors, Mr Wallace said the firm “looked after the deal” for Cerberus but alleged that a “routine audit” had showed that “£7m sterling ended up in an Isle of Man bank account”.

The Wexford TD also claimed the money had been “reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician”, before he was interrupted by speaker Seán Barrett, who advised him to report his allegations to gardaí.

Responding to suggestions by Tánaiste Joan Burton that he should bring his concerns to the board of NAMA or the Republic’s Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr Wallace declared: “I believe we need an independent inquiry.”

Tughans last night denied any wrongdoing, issuing a statement saying the practice was “not linked to any political party nor has it ever made party political donations”.

However, the firm confirmed that a “former partner” - understood to be Ian Coulter - had “diverted to an account of which he was the sole beneficiary professional fees due to the firm, without the knowledge of the partners”.

"We have since retrieved the money and he has left the practice,” the statement said, adding that “the circumstances of the departure of the former partner” had been reported to the Law Society.

Tughans have not been acting as Cerberus' lawyers in Northern Ireland, the BBC reported.

A spokesman for Cerberus said: "We are deeply troubled by Mick Wallace's allegations and we want to make it clear that no improper or illegal fees were paid by us or on our behalf and we take any allegations to the contrary extremely seriously."

Separately, NAMA said it was satisfied that the Northern Ireland deal had “delivered the best possible return that could have been achieved” and that the sales process had been overseen by the Lazard investment bank.

Mr Wallace claimed there was "growing concern regarding the workings of NAMA and whether the taxpayer has been well served by it", citing the deal with Cerberus.

At the time, First Minister Peter Robinson described the sale as "excellent news for the Northern Ireland economy".

Here is an edited transcript of Mr Wallace's remarks:

Deputy Mick Wallace: "There is growing concern regarding the workings of NAMA and whether the taxpayer has been well served by it... The Northern Ireland loan portfolio, Project Eagle, involving more than 850 properties with a par value of Euro 4.5 billion, was sold to US private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management for less than Euro 1.5 billion, a surprise winner of the tender.

"In June 2012, following consultation with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and Mr Sammy Wilson MLA, NAMA reappointed Mr Frank Cushnahan and Mr Brian Rowntree to the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee. Two weeks later, a report by a Northern Ireland auditor's office seriously questioned the stewardship of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which led to the resignation of Brian Rowntree and Frank Cushnahan. The report found breaches of Housing Executive guidelines in the sale of at least 27 land deals, the executive board being given wrong or no information relating to key property deals, favoured property speculators were allowed to buy land well under market value, expressions of interest from other parties not being declared or considered, and at times no reasons being offered for some off-market sales.

"These two individuals stayed in NAMA, one of them up until the summer of 2014. Does the Tánaiste think this was a good idea?... We need an independent inquiry to see if the interests of the taxpayers have always been the top priority for NAMA.

...The legal firm acting for Cerberus Capital Management, which purchased the Northern Ireland loan portfolio for €1.5 billion, was Tughans of Belfast. It has been reported that during a routine audit... (he is interrupted by an Ceann Comhairle several times). Does the Tánaiste have any concerns that a routine audit of a solicitor's firm that looked after the deal where €4.5 billion of assets were sold for €1.5 billion, with a massive loss for the Irish taxpayer? The routine audit showed that £7m sterling ended up in an Isle of Man bank account-----

"...It was reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or party."

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