Secret tapes stored on £7m Nama deal

Independent TD Mick Wallace claimed £7m was earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician
Independent TD Mick Wallace claimed £7m was earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician

EXCLUSIVE: HOURS of secret-taped recordings could expose how a £7million offshore fund was set up last year as a pay-off allegedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician.

The Irish News can reveal that 30 hours of conversations between some of the key players implicated in the alleged scandal were recorded over a period of several months.

The recordings, made ahead of US capital management firm Cerberus buying the Northern Ireland loans portfolio held by the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) for £1.3 billion, are currently held by a legal firm in Belfast.

Last night the 'owner' of the recordings, who The Irish News has been asked not to identify, confirmed the tapes were with lawyers for "safekeeping" and would be remaining under lock and key for now.

The revelation comes as Stormont leaders denied involvement in the alleged £7m payoff to a Northern Ireland politician, amid calls for an inquiry into the sensational claims.

An emergency meeting of the assembly's finance committee has also been called following the allegations over the sale of Northern Ireland property loans held by Nama.

Independent TD Mick Wallace sent political shockwaves around the north after he claimed in the Dáil on Thursday that £7m was in a Belfast law firm's account and earmarked for a northern politician.

Last night DUP First Minister Peter Robinson moved to publicly deny any link to the alleged multi-million-pound deal.

It followed a call from Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt for party leaders to come forward and say they were not the intended recipient of the money "for the avoidance of doubt".

Mr Robinson told The Irish News: "I can unequivocally, and without reservation, confirm that, like Mike, I have not received nor was I ever to receive any proceeds from Cerberus, Tughans or anyone else in relation to the Nama sale."

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was among the chorus of senior political figures who called for an investigation into the claims aired in the Dáil.

"That investigation needs to begin immediately and I would encourage Mick Wallace to speak to An Garda Síochána and the PSNI as a matter of urgency," he said.

Mr Wallace named Belfast-based law firm Tughans as having acted for Cerberus and said "a routine audit showed that £7m ended up in an Isle of Man bank account".

He added that "it was reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician".

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt suggested the FBI should also investigate because the matter because the firm Cerberus are New York-based.

He said: "Given it involves alleged financial corruption, there is clearly a role not just for the police but also the UK's Financial Services Authority, the Irish Financial Regulatory Authority, and given the winning bid for Nama came from the United States, could the FBI investigate as they are already doing with Fifa?"

Stormont finance committee chair Daithí McKay, said he would convene an emergency sitting at the earliest opportunity to examine the allegations.

TUV leader Jim Allister said he would table a priority written question to the first and deputy first ministers.

He said it is "imperative that this matter is thoroughly investigated by all relevant authorities".

The SDLP's Alban Maginness said the matter had to be dealt with quickly.

Tughans has denied Mr Wallace's allegation, while Cerberus said "no improper or illegal fees were paid by us, or on our behalf".

However, it its statement Tughans disclosed details of a high-level dispute with former managing partner Ian Coulter.

The law firm said: "We can confirm that a former partner diverted to an account, of which he was the sole beneficiary, professional fees due to the firm, without the knowledge of the partners.

"We have since retrieved the money and he has left the practice.

"Tughans reported the circumstances of the departure of the former partner to the Law Society."

In a further statement last night, Tughans said Mr Coulter was involved in the Nama transaction.

"Following internal investigation Tughans voluntarily brought the circumstances leading to Ian Coulter's departure to the attention of the Law Society of Northern Ireland (LSNI)," it said.

"Tughans has cooperated fully with LSNI's inquiry. That inquiry is ongoing. The firm awaits the outcome of the inquiry before deciding which other agencies should be notified."

Nama has said it is "fully satisfied" that the sales process for the north's loan portfolio "delivered the best possible return".

The PSNI said nothing had been reported to it regarding the claims, and "as such there is no investigation".

The Law Society of Northern Ireland said it "does not comment on whether or not there is any investigation ongoing in relation to any particular matter or firm".