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McGuinness denies he was briefed on Nama

Former finance minister Simon Hamilton has been challenged by Martin McGuinness over briefings about Nama

A DISPUTE between Martin McGuinness and the DUP's Simon Hamilton is expected to cast a shadow over tomorrow's opening day of talks between the Stormont parties.

Sinn Féin has dismissed Mr Hamilton's claim that the deputy first minister was "briefed and engaged" about a failed bid to buy Nama's northern loan book.

It is not the first time evidence has come to light which suggests Mr McGuinness was marginalised by the DUP in negotiations over the north's biggest ever property deal.

In July, The Irish News revealed how the Sinn Féin deputy first minister was kept in the dark over a meeting involving First Minister Peter Robinson, former US Vice President Dan Quayle, Mr Hamilton and Ian Coulter, the Belfast lawyer who diverted £7m of fees relating to Nama's 'Project Eagle' sale into an offshore account.

Mr McGuinness was also unaware of a proposed memorandum of understanding agreement sent by the first minister's office to Nama ahead of its loan book sale.

The dispute between the two Stormont ministers came as the Financial Times reported that the US Department of Justice was in the early stages of scrutinising the Project Eagle deal and had sent a subpoena for information to Cerberus, the vulture fund which bought Nama's northern debt last year.

In a statement, a Cerberus spokesman said: "Cerberus has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has welcomed any inquiry associated with the acquisition of the Project Eagle portfolio.

"As best we know, these matters are related to the alleged conduct of third parties and not to Cerberus or any of its affiliates."

There have been claims in the Irish parliament that the massive sale of properties last year by NAMA involved a £7m payment intended for a Northern Irish politician. Cerberus won the sale.

New York-based Cerberus's chairman is former vice-president Quayle.

In the latest twist to the controversy, minutes of phone conversations between Mr Hamilton and Nama chairman Frank Daly show the former DUP finance minister gave assurances that both the first minister and Mr McGuinness were kept updated on confidential briefings about the sale of bad bank's northern debt portfolio and in particular a bid by US company Pimco.

According Nama's minutes, in December 2013 Mr Hamilton "confirmed the deputy first minister was aware of the interest with updates provided by the first minister".

Then in January 2014 the then finance minister told Mr Daly the first and deputy first ministers were "fully engaged" with the bid.

However, in a blunt response Mr McGuinness has rejected Mr Hamilton's version of events.

"Mr McGuinness refutes any claim he was fully briefed and engaged with the proposed sale and subsequent collapse of the Nama northern loan book to Pimco as suggested to Nama by the former minister Hamilton," a Sinn Féin spokesman said.

The phone call minutes are contained in a 300-page submission sent by Nama to Stormont's finance and personnel committee, which in July launched an inquiry in to the circumstances surrounding the bad bank's £1.3 billion sale of its Northern Ireland loan book.

The property debt, worth a reputed £4 billion-plus, was sold to Cerberus but a previous bid by rival fund Pimco was aborted after it emerged that businessman Frank Cushnahan, a former member of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory board, was in line to pocket £5m from the deal.

Mr Cushnahan is a former chairman of Red Sky who was appointed to Nama's northern committee on the recommendation of Mr Hamilton's predecessor Sammy Wilson.

The revelation about the phone call minutes has prompted the chair of Stormont's finance and personnel committee to voice concerns about the Department of Finance and Personnel's own record of the same telephone conversations.

Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay said the Department of Finance and Personnel minutes which he had seen were not as thorough as those released by Nama.

"It's clear to me that the detail of what was discussed around the Pimco deal and contained in the Nama minutes does not correspond with the Nama minutes," he told The Irish News yesterday.

Mr McKay said the latest revelation made it even more important for Mr Hamilton to appear before the Stormont committee. To date, efforts to call Mr Hamilton and his predecessor Mr Wilson have proved unsuccessful.

The disputed minutes are expected to cast a shadow over the opening session of fresh Stormont talks beginning tomorrow.

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