Secret Cerberus meetings between Peter Robinson and ex-US Vice President
TWO secret meetings took place last year between Peter Robinson and Dan Quayle, the former Vice President of the United States and one of the key players in Cerberus, the US investment firm engulfed in a major financial scandal.
The first meeting was held at Stormont Castle on March 25 2014, just 10 days before Cerberus paid a knock-down £1.3 billion for the Northern Ireland assets owned by the Dublin government's "bad bank" Nama.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton was also at the meeting along with Ian Coulter, the former managing partner of Tughans. Coulter made a dramatic exit from the Belfast law firm in January after he was caught diverting £7m of fees, understood to be relating to the Cerberus transaction, to an offshore bank.
A spokesman for Cerberus said that the meeting was "standard operating practice to hold due diligence meetings of this nature with Government Ministers in advance of making a bid... This was an official meeting and a matter of public record."
However no media outlet or political party other than the DUP, were believed to have been informed about the visit.
The Irish News understands the meeting was not processed through the department of OFMDFM meaning the deputy first minister Martin McGuinness would not have been aware it was taking place either.
When the property sale, the largest in the history of Northern Ireland, was announced on April 4 2014, the First Minister said that he had spoken to Quayle, who served alongside George Bush senior between 1989 and 1993, and had been told that a team from Cerberus would be sent to Belfast "to meet with us to discuss the way forward".
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The Stormont Castle meeting, just 10 days previously, was not mentioned.
The portfolio, which contains more than 850 properties, became a national talking point after independent TD Mick Wallace revealed in the Dáil that a leading Belfast law firm had £7 million in an offshore bank account which was allegedly linked to a politician or political party.
It has since been claimed that the money had been set aside for 'fixers' and 'facilitators' who had made the deal possible.
A second covert meeting at Stormont Castle took place on September 17 2014, this time involving Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness and Dan Quayle. This was less than six months after Cerberus hoovered up the Nama portfolio at a 70 per cent discount.
Again no media outlet was alerted and no press release sent. The only public record of the meeting was a 'selfie' with Quayle and Robinson on Twitter posted by Martin McGuiinness.
TUV leader Jim Allister, who last month tabled written questions at Stormont asking if Cerberus had met the first and deputy first ministers, called for an explanation as to why the meetings were not made public. He said he was still waiting a response to the questions.
"Peter Robinson needs to come clean who he met, when he met them and why he met them in every respect of the Nama/Cerabus deal. There is increasing public unease attracted to this saga and he needs to address it. There should be some transparency about what the meeting was about and explanation as to why it was done under the radar. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are not usually shy about a photo opportunity."
While the DUP declined to comment Martin McGuinness said: "Given the unprecedented scale of the Cerberus acquisition, this engagement provided me with the opportunity to raise our legitimate concerns relating to any fire sale of the Nama properties, the approach of Cerberus and to outline my determination to protect and support the local economy."
His party colleague Gerry Adams yesterday was unconvinced that the deal had been conducted with integrity. He demanded a full Dáil enquiry amid allegations surrounding the sale of the portfolio which he said suggested "insider trading and political cronyism".
The Irish News also revealed that Peter Robinson met a separate US investment company, Pimco, when it considered buying the Northern Ireland Nama portfolio.
The company previously said it was contacted on an "unsolicited basis by third parties with a proposal relating to the potential purchase" and ultimately pulled out before Cerberus clinched the deal.
Stormont's Finance Committee is probing the Nama portfolio sale which was yesterday branded a "dirty scheme" by DUP Finance Committee member Paul Girvan.
The Law Society last night called on Mr Wallace or any other person with relevant information, to make it available to the PSNI and Garda Siochana.
It said that it had spent the last six months investigating Coulter and would continue to do so alongside any police investigation.
Tughans were last night understood to be contemplating whether or not to refer the money transfer to the police.
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.
Cerberus said "no improper or illegal fees were paid by us or on our behalf". Nama has said it is "fully satisfied" with the sales process.