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Nama: Martin McGuinness dismisses Cerberus meeting as 'routine'

Martin McGuinness said his only contact with Cerberus was a 'routine engagement'. Picture by Ann McManus
Brendan Hughes

SINN Féin's Martin McGuinness has said his only contact with a US investment firm that bought the north's Nama portfolio was a "routine engagement".

The comments came as it emerged yesterday that Cerberus had "contact" with four senior DUP politicians, and Mr McGuinness.

The Deputy First Minister is set to give evidence next week at a Stormont probe into the £1.3bn deal – the biggest ever property transaction in Northern Ireland's history.

Prominent loyalist and internet blogger Jamie Bryson, who has made allegations about the deal online, is also due to give evidence on Wednesday.

The finance committee launched an inquiry following claims in the Dáil in July that a northern politician was set to personally benefit from the deal.

Nama sold the portfolio of 850 properties, dubbed 'Project Eagle', in April last year to New York firm Cerberus.

Cerberus, who will not give oral evidence to the hearing, has outlined a number of reasons for not appearing including concerns about "jeopardising" an ongoing criminal investigation into the deal.

In a letter to the finance committee explain legal reasons why it will not appear Cerberus, said it had "contact to varying extents" with four senior DUP politicians – First Minister Peter Robinson, Simon Hamilton, Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds.

The firm also said it had contact with the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

However, Mr McGuinness yesterday said he had only a "courtesy meeting" with the firm.

"My only contact with Cerberus was a courtesy meeting months after the Cerberus deal with Nama and in line with my responsibilities as deputy first minister. This was a routine engagement and was in the public domain," he said.

The Irish News previously revealed the DUP's Mr Robinson and Mr Hamilton, and solicitor Ian Coulter, met with Cerberus chairman and former US vice president Dan Quayle at Stormont Castle in March last year, just days before the Nama property portfolio deal was finalised.

Sinn Féin's Mr McGuinness has said he was unaware of the meeting. Mr McGuinness did meet Mr Quayle alongside Mr Robinson during a later visit by the former US vice president in September last year.

It also was claimed yesterday that Belfast law firm Tughans did just several weeks work on the sale of the Nama portfolio for which it received a £7.5 million payment. 

Cerberus told the committee that Nama had been informed that there were success fees linked to its deal. Committee member Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said that it was unclear "what Tughans did for around two or three weeks work."

Meanwhile, the finance committee yesterday voted to hear evidence from some witnesses in future behind closed doors.

MLAs repeatedly referred to the scheduled appearance of loyalist blogger Mr Bryson, who claims to have information relevant to the inquiry.

A majority of members backed Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane's proposal that all future witnesses must prove a "direct link" to those involved in the deal if their evidence is to be heard in public session. Those who can't prove such a link will be heard in private and a transcript, potentially redacted, will be published later.

Ms Cochrane insisted her option ensured all evidence would be heard in some form.

"But some will be in open session if they tick that box (direct link), and others will be in closed session with the transcript," she said.

"This gives us that little bit of extra protection to ensure we stay within the terms of reference."

Both Mr Bryson and Mr McGuinness will now be asked to prove they have such a direct link.

The vote followed a lengthy debate around proposed restrictions. Sinn Féin, SDLP and Ulster Unionist members argued for open hearings, stressing the need for transparency, while the DUP stressed the importance of not airing any evidence that could prejudice legal processes.

The British National Crime Agency is also probing the Nama deal. It followed claims that £7m of legal fees involved in the transaction had been earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or party.

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

All parties involved in the northern Nama transaction have denied any wrongdoing.

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