Departments criticised for silence on Nama adviser criteria

Businessman Frank Cushnahan
Brendan Hughes

A STORMONT committee has hit out at government departments on both sides of the border for failing to explain how Nama's northern advisers were chosen.

The controversial £1.3bn sale of Nama's property loan portfolio in Northern Ireland has been the subject of a finance committee inquiry since July.

However, MLAs are still unsure how the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee (NIAC) for the Republic's 'bad bank' was selected.

In July a Dáil committee heard that former adviser Frank Cushnahan was at one stage in line for a £5m payment over the northern loan book sale.

And on Thursday a Belfast businessman claimed at the finance committee that the appointment of Mr Cushnahan, a former colleague, to NIAC had directly impacted on his firms.

Loans held by Gareth Graham's property companies were within Nama's northern portfolio purchased last year by US firm Cerberus.

Mr Graham, a member of the Sean Graham bookmaker family, is fighting a legal battle with Cerberus in a bid to win back control of his companies.

He claimed Mr Cushnahan was "intent on destroying our businesses", and his firms were wrongly taken into Nama following his former colleague's "malevolent" influence.

He also said Mr Cushnahan should have declared a 5 per cent stake in his property companies when he became a Nama adviser.

Mr Cushnahan has denied any wrongdoing and insisted he gave up the property firm interests and only an "administrative error" meant he was still listed as a shareholder.

Nama appointed him to its NIAC after being recommended in 2010 by former DUP finance minister Sammy Wilson.

MLAs want to know what criteria was used for the appointments.

The Stormont finance department and its counterpart in the Republic did not respond last night when asked to explain if any criteria was used.

Sinn Féin's Daithí McKay, chair of the finance committee, said the "public deserves to know" what the process was for making appointments.

"There are clearly questions to be asked of the Department of Finance in Dublin and its counterpart in the north as to what criteria was used in the appointment of advisers to Nama's northern advisory committee," he said.

"The finance committee has seen no evidence of the specific criteria used."

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

Independent TD Mick Wallace claimed in the Dáil that a £7m offshore account linked to the northern Nama deal was earmarked for a northern politician or political party.

A criminal investigation led by the British National Crime Agency (NCA) has been launched.

Mr Graham confirmed on Thursday that he has tapes of thousands of phone calls made by Mr Cushnahan between 2005 and 2008 when he worked with the Graham family's bookmaking business. Calls were recorded for regulatory reasons.

Their business relationship broke down in 2008.

Mr Graham has claimed the tapes show an "ingrained culture of inappropriate and possibly illegal conduct" across political, banking, legal and accountancy sectors.

He said he has contacted the NCA, PSNI and the Securities and Exchanges Commission in Washington DC.

The Irish News revealed the existence of the tapes back in July as the Nama scandal emerged.


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