Business

Mike Nesbitt asks Diane Dodds if probe into equity fund 'is a son of RHI'

How the Irish News broke the story of the suspension of Crescent IV and probe into an earlier equity fund
Gary McDonald Business Editor

AN Ulster Unionist MLA has asked if a probe by Invest NI into the running of an equity fund created to attract technology and manufacturing start-ups "is the son of RHI".

Mike Nesbitt posed the question to economy minister Diane Dodds during questions in the Assembly.

He was referencing a story in the Irish News which revealed that the £65 million Crescent Capital IV Development Fund had been unexpectedly shut down at the end of last week, and that a review has been launched into the running of a previous fund.

Crescent III, a fund set up in 2013 and to which Invest NI paid in half of its £30 million pot, is understood to be the subject of an investigation, and a number of investors have been interviewed as part of an assessment about how monies may have been managed.

When Mr Nesbitt brought the content of the article to the minister's attention in a topical question, Mrs Dodds said: "My understanding is that no-one has anything to fear, but that the fund manager was unable to have additional private finance and equity realised, and therefore the fund (IV) was not sustainable.

On the investigation into Crescent III, Mr Nesbitt asked: "Are we looking at a son of RHI?"

Dismissing the comment, Ms Dodds replied: "I don't think the member should be getting carried away on this particular issue.

"All of the issues will be investigated and dealt with in the normal manner etcetera."

The Irish News asked Invest NI if it would specifically confirm that an investigation is taking place into Crescent III, and the reason for any probe.

A spokesman said: "As part of normal processes we undertake regular monitoring and reviews of all our funds and programmes to assess performance against objectives."

Crescent III is a 10-year fund which had a target to make 20 investments in the first five years (in that time it made 19 investments in 12 companies.

With two years left to run, Invest NI said it has made 39 investments (including initial and follow-on investments) totalling £17.9m in 15 companies, and the fund is now in its realisation phase.

Invest NI, in a post on its web page late last Friday, said the Crescent IV fund is being put on ice due to what it said were difficulties in raising private sector funding as a result of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Asked by the Irish News if that decision was taken solely by Invest NI or in consultation with Crescent Capital, a spokesman for the agency said: "Crescent Capital wrote to us in January to advise of its intention to terminate the fund.

"It had determined that the fund was not viable due to difficulties in raising the required level of private investment.

"Invest NI had been in dialogue with Crescent Capital since it raised initial concerns in spring 2020, following the onset of Covid-19, and accepted this position."

Foyle MLA Sinead McLaughlin, a member of Stormont's economy committee, confirmed last night that she has tabled a priority question to the minister.

It will ask Mrs Dodds to outline the exact reasons for the closure of Crescent Capital IV Development Fund.

It will also ask whether a review has been commissioned into the closure of the earlier fund; why a review has been commissioned; and for her assessment of the outcomes of these equity investment funds.

Sinead McLaughlin has tabled a priority Assembly question to Diane Dodds over the Crescent equity schemes

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