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Accountant who first conceived Nama's Project Eagle sale fined £75,000 for failed oversight

Belfast accountant David Watters has been fined £75,000

THE BELFAST accountant who claimed to have masterminded the job lot sale of Nama's northern loan book has been handed a hefty fine after failures in his role as a compliance officer with two firms.

David Watters (61) failed to demonstrate "due skill, care and diligence" when FGS McClure Watters (FGS) and Lanyon Astor Buller Ltd (LAB) were giving pension advice to customers.

He was fined £75,000 earlier this week by Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

"It was Mr Watters’ responsibility to take reasonable steps to put in place a compliant advice process," the watchdog's enforcement director Mark Steward said.

"His failure to do this placed customers at risk of needlessly losing valuable benefits for their retirement."

An FCA probe found that in his role as compliance oversight officer, firstly at FGS and then LAB, Mr Watters failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the advice being given about pension transfers was adequate and met regulatory standards

According to the watchdog, this led to a serious risk of unsuitable advice being given to around 500 customers – with a combined pension value of approximately £12.7 million – about the merits of transferring their pension from a defined benefit to a defined contribution scheme.

The FCA said it may have been unnecessary for customers to leave their defined benefit schemes, thereby losing their guaranteed benefits.

Two years ago it was revealed that Mr Watters had asked for a £7.5m payment for work he carried out in the run-up to the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book – also known as Project Eagle.

Months before the scandal broke in July 2015, Mr Watters wrote to solicitors' firm Tughans accusing senior partner Ian Coulter, the lawyer at the centre of the Nama scandal, of failing to "discharge the contractual and fiduciary obligation he owed me".

Mr Watters laid claim to the "acquisition fee of £7.5m" held by Belfast law firm Tughans following the £1.3bn sale by Nama to US vulture fund Cerberus.

The origin of the money, which was sent from a Tughans' Belfast bank to an offshore account under instructions from Mr Coulter, is being investigated by the National Crime Agency as part of its probe into the sale of Project Eagle.

Both Mr Watters and businessman Frank Cushnahan, who have both denied any wrongdoing, were named by loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson at an assembly committee as being beneficiaries of a "success fee" following the Nama deal.

Mr Watters, a founding partner of Belfast accountancy firm McClure Watters, said afterwards it was "completely false" to claim he "was due to receive a fee from monies paid to an Isle of Man account".

The letter suggested that the concept of the sale of the Nama portfolio as one entity was devised more than three years before the successful bidder Cerberus completed the sale.

There has been no comment on the FCA fine from Mr Watters.

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