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McGuinness kept in dark over Robinson's Quayle meeting

 (Clockwise from left) Former Tughans managing partner Ian Coulter; Martin McGuinness, Dan Quayle and Peter Robinson pose after their September 2014 meeting; Tughans' Belfast office and Independent TD Mick Wallace who made the Nama allegations in the Dáil last week
Susan Thompson and Brendan Hughes

Martin McGuinness was kept in the dark over a meeting involving First Minister Peter Robinson, a former US Vice President and the Belfast lawyer at the heart of one of Northern Ireland's biggest ever financial scandals.

The Deputy First Minister told The Irish News last night that he had no knowledge of the meeting held in March 2014 between his government partner, Cerberus Global Investments chairman Dan Quayle, Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, and Ian Coulter, a former senior lawyer at Tughans who diverted £7m of fees relating to Nama's 'Project Eagle' sale into an offshore account.

Mr McGuinness said the meeting - which was held at Stormont House just 10 days before Cerberus announced it had agreed to pay a knockdown £1.3 billion for Nama's Northern Ireland assets - could therefore not have been official.

"If such a meeting took place it was not a formal or official meeting with OFMDFM as it was not processed thought the department. I was not aware of and had not agreed to any such meeting in respect of the joint office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister."

He added: "There are clearly very serious questions to be answered regarding the sale of the Nama loan book which is why, in the Dail we have called for a Commission of Investigation and in the north, the DFP (finance and personnel) committee has already begun its investigation."

The Irish News asked the DUP why the Cerberus meeting was not on public record but did not receive a response.

The party also did not respond to questions as to why Mr Coulter, the Tughans managing partner who made a dramatic exit from the Belfast firm after the £7m account was uncovered, was present at the Quayle meeting.

The Irish News understands that he had also been involved in a potential bid by Pimco, another American US investment fund, for Nama's northern loans.

Pimco is thought to have pulled out of the auction just days before Stormont Castle meeting with Cerberus.

It said it withdrew from the process after raising concerns to Nama about the role of "third parties" and advised Ireland's 'bad bank' of the details of an "acquisition fee" that had been requested by those third parties and of their identities.

Former Nama Northern Ireland advisory committee member Frank Cushnahan, who had an office in the same building as Tughans, met Pimco with Mr Coulter as it was preparing to enter the auction, which began in early 2014.

Cerberus did not comment in what capacity Mr Coulter was at the meeting with Mr Quayle, but a statement suggested that he was part of the First Minister's delegation.

"On 25th March 2014 a Cerberus delegation including Vice President Dan Quayle held an official meeting with the First Minister Peter Robinson, Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, officials and Ian Coulter in Stormont Castle, Belfast. It is standard operating practice to hold due diligence meetings of this nature with government ministers in advance of making a bid especially as we had never invested in Northern Ireland previously."

Nama has said that it only agreed to accept the Cerberus offer after it received assurances that the buyer had not paid any third party.

The Irish News understands there is no record of the Cerberus meeting in March on OFMDFM systems. No political party outside of the DUP has said they knew of the meeting and the media were not alerted before or after the former Vice President of America's visit.

However, Cerberus insisted that it was "an official meeting and a matter of public record".

In June 2014, two months after the meeting, the OFMDFM responded to a freedom of information request which asked for details of all meetings in 2014 between Nama and the First or Deputy First Minister, Cerberus or other executive departments or ministers that "concerned NAMA's Northern Ireland's loan book."

The First Minister's meeting with Mr Quayle was not disclosed in the answer issued on July 4 2014 . Both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister's teams are obliged to sign off on FOI requests.

A spokesman for the Alliance party said yesterday: "While Alliance accepts meetings between local ministers and potential investors will happen on a regular basis, given the significant public interest questions that have now been raised in relation to the Nama sale, it is important all those with knowledge regarding any relevant meetings provide full details of those, including dates, those in attendance and the purpose."

McGuinness did meet Mr Quayle and his Cerberus team during a later visit by the former US Vice President and his team on September 24, six months after the Nama deal was agreed.

Although not publicised by OFMDFM, Mr McGuinness said it was officially recorded and he tweeted out a picture at the time.

"I did have a routine meeting with the leadership of Cerberus including former Vice President Dan Quayle in September 2014 to stress the need for a responsible approach to managing the loans and the assets they had bought... This meeting happened almost six months after the announcement of the sale and was an official ministerial meeting and part of the departmental diary with associated briefing.

"At the time, I made the meeting public. It was certainly not in any way secret."

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