Peter Robinson's son linked to law firm at centre of financial scandal

Gareth and Peter Robinson after Gareth is elected in the Castlreagh council elections in 2011
Gareth and Peter Robinson after Gareth is elected in the Castlreagh council elections in 2011 Gareth and Peter Robinson after Gareth is elected in the Castlreagh council elections in 2011

FIRST minister Peter Robinson's son was employed by the Belfast law firm at the centre of the Nama financial scandal.

Stormont has been rocked by claims that an offshore fund worth £7m was earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician.

Independent TD Mick Wallace last week alleged the pay-off was linked to the sale of Northern Ireland property loans held by Nama (National Asset Management Agency).

New York firm Cerberus bought the 850-property portfolio in April last year by for £1.3bn, the biggest ever property deal in Northern Ireland's history.

The Irish News can reveal that law firm Tughans, which worked on the Cerberus sale, has links to former DUP councillor Gareth Robinson.

His public relations company Verbatim Communications was paid thousands of pounds by Tughans to manage an event hosted by the solicitors' firm.

DUP leader Peter Robinson was a guest speaker at the exclusive reception held at Queen's University building Riddel Hall.

It is understood Verbatim was hired to manage the event in June 2012 by then managing partner of Tughans, Ian Coulter.

A source said Verbatim may have been paid up to £4,000 for the event about Tughans' association with Queen's University's Postgraduate and Executive Education Centre.

The event is not understood to have any relevance to the Cerberus sale.

Mr Coulter is at the centre of serious allegations surrounding the Nama Northern Ireland property portfolio sale.

On Thursday Mr Wallace named 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".

It has since been claimed the £7m found in an Isle of Man bank account was intended to facilitate payments to non-lawyers or deal 'fixers'.

Tughans has said professional fees due to the firm were diverted to an account without its knowledge by Mr Coulter.

It said the money was retrieved and Mr Coulter has since left the practice.

The Law Society has repeatedly refused to comment, but Tughans confirmed the society is conducting an investigation into the matter.

Some of Tughans' clients are understood to have been recommended to use Gareth Robinson and Verbatim Communications, including clients whose property loans had been acquired by Nama.

The Irish News also understands that Frank Cushnahan, a former Nama Northern Ireland adviser who had an office in the Tughans' building, recommended companies to use Gareth and Verbatim.

One of the companies who used Verbatim was Lagan Homes which is part of the Lagan Group.

Tughans last night declined to comment on these issues due to the ongoing investigation by the Law Society.

Following last week's sensational claims, Mr Wallace has said he plans to make further explosive allegations in the Dáil on the Nama Northern Ireland deal.

The Wexford TD told The Irish News: "I have more to say about Northern Ireland."

"There are some powerful people and they have some serious questions to answer ­and they are not feeling comfortable."

On Saturday The Irish News revealed the existence of hours of secret, taped recordings that could expose how the alleged £7m pay-off fund was set up.

Some 30 hours of conversations between some of the key players implicated in the scandal are currently held by a legal firm in Belfast.

A raft of senior politicians has called for an investigation into the claims aired in the Dáil.

Cerberus said they were represented by the US firm Brown Rudnick, who in turn instructed Tughans in Belfast.

The New York-based capital management firm said "no improper or illegal fees were paid by us or on our behalf".

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

"Tughans did not act for Nama on this transaction. Tughans' issue is internal to it and has no relevance to Nama's open, competitive sales process," a spokesman said.

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