Northern Ireland news

Ex-Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan 'told developer to deny giving him thousands in fixer fees'

Businessman Frank Cushnahan

FORMER Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan instructed a businessman who gave him thousands of pounds in cash to tell police probing the sale of Nama’s northern loan book he never received any payment.

Covert audio recordings reveal Frank Cushnahan was given £40,000 in cash and a separate €10,000 payment in alleged ‘fixer’s fees’ by Co Down developer John Miskelly, whose properties had been taken over by the Republic’s ‘bad bank’, during secret meeting in Belfast in 2012 and 2013. 

The explosive recordings, made by developer John Miskelly and broadcast by the BBC's Spotlight programme on Tuesday night, reveal Mr Cushnahan was given the cash during a secret meeting in Belfast in August 2012.

Mr Miskelly was once one of the richest men in the north, with an estimated fortune of £68 million.

But he later suffered serious health problems and his property empire collapsed during the financial crash.

He was left with huge corporate debts and his properties were absorbed by Nama.

Nama: Full coverage

Tuesday night's programme revealed:

  • Mr Miskelly gave Mr Cushnahan £40,000 in cash at a secret meeting in August 2012
  • He later gave him €10,000 in cash in the lobby of of Tughans law firm in Belfast, where Mr Cushnahan had an office
  • Mr Cushnahan told Mr Miskelly last year to tell the National Crime Agency (NCA) he had never been given any payment and spoke of his fears he could end up in prison
  • He told Mr Miskelly to tell Stormont's finance committee, who were probing the Nama sale, to say he was simply acting for the developer 'in an advisory capacity'
  • That the pair, who barely knew each other, had been introduced by Gareth Robinson, the son of former First Minister Peter Robinson
  • That Mr Cushnahan and former senior Nama executive Ronnie Hanna were "as thick as thieves" and suggested Mr Hanna would give him confidential Nama information - an allegation Mr Hanna denied
  • Mr Cushnahan gave Mr Miskelly a note allegedly saying what each of his Nama properties were worth - a breach of Irish law
  • That he was working with DUP MLA Sammy Wilson and alleged that political pressure from him and Peter Robinson could be put on Nama to let northern properties be sold at "a discount" to help developers - a suggestion Peter Robinson told the programme was "risible"

Video courtesy of BBC Spotlight:

The NCA is investigating the sale of Nama's northern loan book to US firm Cerberus after a £7 million alleged 'fixer's fee' was transferred to an Isle of Man bank in connection with the £1.2 billion deal.

The sale is also being investigated by authorities in the US.

The Irish News first revealed in June that Mr Cushnahan and former Nama official Ronnie Hanna were arrested by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and later released on bail.

Mr Cushnahan told Spotlight he could not comment on allegations made in the programme due to the NCA investigation.

Sammy Wilson of the DUP. Picture by Matt Bohill 

Gareth Robinson and Mr Wilson did not respond to Spotlight's requests for comment.

A previous Spotlight programme broadcast covert recordings from Mr Miskelly which revealed Mr Cushnahan was due to get a secret fixer's fee from the sale of Nama's northern loan book.

In the audio recordings broadcast on Tuesday night, Mr Miskelly told Mr Cushnahan he was giving him £40,000 in two piles of cash.

Although it was not clear what the money was for, in the tapes Mr Cushnahan told the developer he was going to help him escape Nama and regain control of his properties - a breach of Irish law.

The programme alleged on Tuesday night that Mr Cushnahan was also given a further €10,000 in early 2013 during a meeting in the lobby of Tughans law firm in Belfast.

The Cerberus investment fund bought Nama's Northern Ireland property portfolio in 2014. Cerberus then sold Mr Miskelly's former properties to another company.

The recordings reveal Mr Cushnahan told Mr Miskelly last October to tell the NCA that he did not receive any money.

During a meeting Mr Cushnahan said: "Because they're going to come and say did I get paid by anybody and the answer to that is no."

Mr Cushnahan had been a member of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee but Nama told the BBC it had never been informed the businessman had been working with Mr Miskelly.

Mr Miskelly and Mr Cushnahan were introduced by former First Minister Peter Robinson's son Gareth.

During the August 2012 meeting, Mr Miskelly told Mr Cushnahan: "I don't know nothing about you, I don't really know your background. Only Gareth...the only way I know you Frank is through Gareth".

Mr Cushnahan replies: "The other thing with Gareth, like to be fair Gareth wants to look after you too."

There is no suggestion Gareth Robinson knew about the £40,000 payment or had any role in it.

At a later meeting Mr Cushnahan told Mr Miskelly he would "look after" Mr Robinson.

"I would look after him is basically, effectively in a deal that comes forward and it's on, I would give him something out of the other, do you know?" he said.

Gareth Robinson in 2011. Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker

There is no evidence Gareth Robinson ever received any money from Mr Cushnahan.

The programme heard Mr Miskelly paid Mr Robinson £5,000 but the developer told Spotlight the money was for public relations work.

In recordings made before the northern loan book was sold to Cerberus, Mr Cushnahan told Mr Miskelly he was working with DUP MLA Sammy Wilson and suggested political pressure could be put on Nama.

"If for example (Peter) Robinson and Wilson were to impose a thing on them to say in the south you guys should let these assets go (for) less than...I believe we could get government to get a discount," he said.

In a statement on Tuesday night Mr Miskelly said he had always reported all financial matters to the relevant authorities.

“I have at all times made clear that payments made by me to any persons have been lawful and legitimate," he said.

“As a witness, I am participating in the ongoing investigations by the NCA and authorities in the United States and in the interest of integrity of the judicial process I am unable to make any further comment.”

Meanwhile police are investigating allegations that a key witness at an Assembly inquiry was coached, in order to see if any offences have been committed.

Last month Sinn Fein's Daithí McKay resigned as North Antrim MLA.

It followed the emergence of details in The Irish News of secret contacts between the former chairman of the Finance Committee, another Sinn Féin member and loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson.

A separate inquiry into the matter by the Assembly Standards Commissioner Douglas Bain will be suspended in order to avoid any risk of prejudicing an active police investigation.

BBC Spotlight is being repeated tonight on BBC Two NI at 11.15pm and is also available on the BBC iPlayer   bbc.co.uk/iplayer 

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