TDs hear Cerberus paid £15m fee for 'access to Stormont executive'
THE American vulture fund that bought Nama's northern loan portfolio was promised "access" to the Stormont Executive through the Belfast solicitors' firm headed by Ian Coulter.
Cerberus's chief operating officer Mark Neporent yesterday told the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee that the assurances were given by New York law firm Brown Rudnick, which had previously been working with Belfast-based Tughans on a rival bid for the bad bank's Northern Ireland loan book.
Mr Neporent agreed with Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald who said Brown Rudnick were "as good as their word" – it emerged during the hearing that just 24 hours after the two companies started working together, a meeting at Stormont Castle was arranged involving Tughans' managing partner Mr Coulter, Cerberus chairman and former US vice-president Dan Quayle and First Minister Peter Robinson.
The secret meeting, which was also attended by the then DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, was revealed by The Irish News in July last year just days after the Nama scandal broke with the allegation that a £7m fixer's fee lodged in an offshore bank account was destined for a Northern Ireland politician.
The 2014 deal that saw Cerberus buy the 'Project Eagle' loan book for £1.24 billion has been embroiled in controversy since with much of the attention focused on Belfast businessman Frank Cushnahan, who was appointed as a Nama adviser on the recommendation of the DUP.
Investment firm Pimco pulled out of a previous plan to buy Project Eagle when it realised a fixer's fee was to be paid to Mr Cushnahan, Mr Coulter and Brown Rudnick.
Criminal probes into the deal have been mounted on both sides of the Atlantic, while in the Republic the Public Accounts Committee is investigating whether the sale of Nama's northern loan represented value for money for taxpayers.
Mr Neporent told TDs that a £15m "success fee" was paid to Brown Rudnick for access to the Stormont executive and other valuable information.
"What we were paying for was work they had done over the course of at least a year – not just for two weeks' work – and we were also paying for their access to other stakeholders through local affiliations," he told the Dáil committee.
When asked who, he replied: "The Northern Ireland Executive, people in the Republic."
Mr Neporent said Cerberus wanted the access to make sure it was welcome in the region and understood what issues there were over the sale of the loan portfolio.
He said Brown Rudnick told him Pimco pulled out of the sale because of turmoil in the company at the time and because Nama had concerns Mr Cushnahan would become a future Pimco adviser if it won the bid.
"We were not told Mr Cushnahan was working with Tughans before that, we were not told he was intended to be paid," he said.