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Peter Robinson's son worked for firm given £9m by Nama

First Minister Peter Robinson on the Millmount site in 2009 with Lagan Homes managing director Conor Mulligan
Brendan Hughes

A STORMONT watchdog has expressed alarm that no records were kept for meetings about Nama awarding a £9m contract to a developer that has employed the First Minister's son.

It is the latest twist amid investigations into the £1.3bn purchase of Northern Ireland property assets owned by the Republic's 'bad bank' Nama.

The assembly's finance committee has launched an inquiry following claims that a northern politician was to benefit financially from the portfolio deal.

As the committee met yesterday, focus turned to a major housing scheme on the outskirts of east Belfast that was given funding by Nama.

Nama announced in April 2013 that it would provide £9m for the 95-unit development on the Millmount site in Dundonald.

Finance committee chair Daithí McKay said there had been "some eyebrows raised in the Twittersphere" about Nama's involvement with Millmount.

He said a note of a meeting in December 2012 between Nama and then finance minister Sammy Wilson referred to Millmount.

And a meeting between Nama's Frank Daly and the minister on April 22, 2013 had Millmount as the first item on agenda.

Mr McKay questioned why there were no minutes available of the meetings, despite dealing with the awarding of millions of pounds.

He said: "This was a briefing note and Millmount was to be the first item on the agenda, but there's no meeting minutes and there's no meeting notes, so we don't know what was discussed, which I also find unusual."

Finance department permanent secretary David Sterling, who appeared before the Stormont probe, accepted that there should be minutes taken of meetings between the minister and Nama.

It was suggested that officials have not completed their search of documents and the minutes could still turn up.

Millmount was developed in partnership with administrators by the Belfast-based Lagan Group.

Former DUP councillor Gareth Robinson's public relations firm Verbatim Communications was used by Lagan Homes, part of the Lagan Group.

A Lagan spokeswoman told The Irish News that Verbatim carried out "planning-related consultancy" for Lagan Homes.

It comes after The Irish News revealed that First Minister Peter Robinson's son has links to a Belfast law firm at the centre of the Nama financial scandal.

Tughans paid Verbatim thousands of pounds to manage an exclusive event in 2012 hosted by the solicitors' firm, where Peter Robinson was a guest speaker.

Tughans is also believed to have recommended to some of its clients to use Mr Robinson junior and Verbatim.

It is understood several of the clients that took up the offer were being managed by Nama.

Gareth Robinson and Verbatim have denied any involvement in the Nama property portfolio scandal.

DUP leader Mr Robinson has unequivocally denied that he received or was due to receive any proceeds related to the Nama loan sale.

The Stormont finance committee yesterday agreed to invite former DUP finance ministers Sammy Wilson and Simon Hamilton to give evidence to the inquiry.

Mr McKay said the finance department's permanent secretary has also agreed to appear before the committee again with responses to some of the questions that remain unanswered.

The North Antrim MLA said the committee is due to meet again in a fortnight.

Nama (National Asset Management Agency) was set up by the Republic's government to clear property loans from bailed-out lenders.

It sold its Northern Ireland property loan portfolio to US investment firm Cerberus last year for £1.3bn – the biggest ever property deal in the north's history.

A criminal investigation led by the UK National Crime Agency was launched earlier this month following allegations in the Dáil.

Independent TD Mick Wallace claimed that £7m in an Isle of Man account linked to the Nama deal was "reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or political party".

Tughans, which worked on the Nama deal, said professional fees were discovered in an offshore account controlled by its former managing partner, who has denied wrongdoing.

Nama and all private firms involved in the assets sale have also denied wrongdoing.

Cerberus employed US law firm Brown Rudnick which shared its fees with Tughans.

Yesterday it emerged that Nama was the first item on the agenda during a meeting between Mr Hamilton and his southern counterpart Michael Noonan.

The committee heard Mr Hamilton raised with Mr Noonan in September 2013 an approach by US law firm Brown Rudnick to purchase Nama property loans.

Brown Rudnick had previously written to former minister Mr Wilson saying two clients were interested in buying the loan book from Nama.

At the finance committee meeting chairman Mr McKay said: "So the incoming minister, the first point he is raising with Michael Noonan in the meeting, is questions around the correspondence that Sammy Wilson (his predecessor) sent in June about Brown Rudnick.

"There does seem to be a continuation of that particular issue being a priority for the sitting minister."

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