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Nama adviser had concerns over property sale 'wall of silence'

Brian Rowntree said a "wall of silence" surrounded the sale of Northern Ireland property loan portfolio
Brendan Hughes

A SENIOR Nama adviser has said that explosive claims of a £7m pay-off set aside for a Northern Ireland politician threaten the integrity of its entire operations.

Brian Rowntree, a Nama advisory board member, said the allegations made in the Dáil came as an "absolute shock and a complete surprise".

Last night he told The Irish News that there was a "wall of silence" at Nama surrounding sale of Northern Ireland property loan portfolio in 2014.

The former head of the Housing Executive said he had felt "excluded" and expressed concerns but was told the matter was "commercially sensitive".

He strongly denied any link to the allegations and defended his role at Nama, insisting: "There is nothing that questioned my integrity in relation to my dealing with Nama."

Mr Rowntree, from Newry in Co Down, joined calls for a formal investigation and said he would fully cooperate with any probe into the "very serious allegations".

"It calls into question the integrity of Nama as an organisation. Nama needs to take all necessary action to satisfy all parties about the robustness of the process," he said.

Mr Rowntree was appointed to the Nama advisory committee for Northern Ireland in 2010 and remained until its disbandment last year.

He said there was a "complete wall of silence" around the Northern Ireland loan book.

"I and members of the advisory committee were never updated around the operation or strategic issues surrounding the sale of the Northern Ireland portfolio," he said.

"These were dealt with by the main Nama board and the senior executive team of Nama.

"There was a complete wall of silence in, and around, this whole dealing, and around the sale of the Northern Ireland loan book," he said.

"At the time I felt excluded but if there were commercial sensitivities I wasn't going to breach these."

He added: "I did raise my concerns with the chair and it was said that it was commercially sensitive."

Mr Rowntree had been reappointed to the advisory committee in June 2012 just weeks before resigning from the Housing Executive.

His resignation came ahead of an audit office report on the Housing Executive and claims of overcharging on multi-million pound repair contracts.

Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday independent TD Mick Wallace questioned why Mr Rowntree had remained on the Nama committee following the report's publication.

But Mr Rowntree rejected Mr Wallace's concerns over his continued advisory role in Nama despite his Housing Executive resignation.

"I had no questions to answer in relation to my time in the Housing Executive. I have given evidence to the social development committee and at no stage has my integrity been questioned in relation to the Housing Executive," he said.

"There is absolutely no way you can link the activity of the Housing Executive with Nama.

"At no stage was my name ever mentioned as having any questions to answer in any untoward fashion so his statement was incorrect.

"There is nothing that questioned my integrity in relation to my dealing with Nama."

Mr Rowntree said Tughans solicitors should have considered referring itself to the PSNI after becoming aware of funds being diverted to a separate account by a former partner in the firm.

The former Policing Board member added: "I want to defend my own integrity in this matter. I will cooperate with any investigation because I have nothing to hide in this matter. I was not involved in the sale to [US private equity firm] Cerberus."

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