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Fresh start for £7m lawyer Ian Coulter

Former Tughan's solicitor Ian Coulter at his holiday home. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.

The solicitor at the heart of the Nama loan sale controversy has made a fresh start at Belfast company Lagan Construction following his shock exit from Tughans.

Ian Coulter has been acting as a consultant to the family-owned building business since April.

An employee said he was introduced to staff as a personal adviser to chairman Michael Lagan.

The Irish News understands that Michael Lagan was keen to give the high-flying lawyer a fresh start after his position at Tughans became untenable.

Mr Coulter is thought to be advising Mr Lagan on strategy.

"Ian is very commercially minded rather than just a good lawyer," said an acquaintance of Coulter.

Coulter made an abrupt exit from Tughans in January following a dispute with the partnership over a £7m money transfer to an Isle of Man account which had been derived from work carried out on the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book to Cerberus, a US investment company.

Independent TD Mick Wallace has since claimed the £7m was “reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or political party”. Coulter denies this.

Coulter (43) is not able to practice as a solicitor because he did not renew his practising certificate licence in January when he left Tughans.

However, he remains on the roll of solicitors in Northern Ireland and therefore subject to the regulations of the Law Society of Northern Ireland which launched an investigation into the £7m money transfer in January. There is also a police investigation into the £1.3bn Nama portfolio sale to Cerberus.

A renowned corporate finance lawyer specialising in mergers and acquisitions, Coulter is believed to have been among the legal representatives when sibling millionaires Kevin and Michael Lagan were involved in a bitter dispute which was eventually settled out of court.

Lagan was established in 1962 by Peter Lagan. In 2010 it split into Lagan Construction Group, headed by grandson Michael Lagan, and Lagan Group, under Kevin Lagan.

'Frankie' Coulter, as he was nicknamed at his school, Coleraine Academical Institution, was a very effective networker who brought plenty of business into Tughans.

He worked with Frank Cushnahan, a former banker who had an office in the same building as Tughans, on Pimco's failed bid to purchase the Nama portfolio. Pimco was believed to have been asked to pay £15m to Mr Coulter, Mr Cushnahan and Brown Rudnick, before the deal fell through. The money was to be split three ways.

Cerberus retained Brown Rudnick and Tughans after Pimco’s departure but did not use Mr Cushnahan.

Coulter was one of the youngest ever lawyers appointed as managing partner at Tughans and had contacts in influential places following a two year stint as chairman of the Northern Ireland arm of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). He was voted Insider Northern Ireland’s dealmaker of the year in 2012.

Tughans said yesterday that it "strongly disagrees" with Coulter's version of events surrounding the treatment, discovery and retrieval of the professional fees and his exit from the practice and it has passed all documentation relating to this to the Law Society.

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