PSNI to investigate Frank Cushnahan in fraud probe

Prominent Belfast businessman and former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan
Brendan Hughes

THE PSNI has launched a criminal investigation into fraud allegations involving former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan.

In an unexpected move, detectives will investigate alleged offences of 'obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception' and 'conspiracy to defraud'.

The probe is separate from the ongoing National Crime Agency investigation into the controversy over Nama's sale of its Northern Ireland property loans portfolio.

It centres on Mr Cushnahan's shareholding in firms owned by Belfast businessman Gareth Graham, owner of the Sean Graham family bookmaking business.

The Irish News understands the investigation relates to an alleged 'side letter' arrangement over the shares.

It is believed the matter was part of a complaint made to the PSNI in autumn last year by Gareth Graham, whose property firms had loans moved into Nama.

In 2005 Mr Cushnahan worked with the Graham family's bookmaking business and received a five per cent shareholding.

But the relationship broke down in 2008 after Mr Cushnahan was accused of trying to sell the business.

Mr Graham told Stormont's Nama inquiry in September that bookmaking firms in Ireland at the time had been sold for up to £135 million.

"Instead of developing our business in the manner that we had anticipated, Frank Cushnahan set about trying to sell our business, which would have involved his recouping a significant return for his five per cent," he said.

Mr Graham claimed that Mr Cushnahan was then "intent on destroying our businesses", and his property firms were wrongly taken into Nama after Mr Cushnahan's "malevolent" influence.

He also told the finance committee that Mr Cushnahan had retained a five per cent stake in these property companies despite becoming a member of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee (NIAC).

Mr Cushnahan has dismissed claims of a conflict of interest, insisting that he gave up the interests before becoming a Nama adviser and that any shareholder listing is an "administrative error".

Nama (National Asset Management Agency), the Republic's 'bad bank', sold its northern portfolio to US investment firm Cerberus in 2014.

A criminal probe was launched last year following claims in the Dáil that around £7m linked to the deal had been earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or party.

Mr Cushnahan (74) has been at the centre of allegations surrounding the £1bn loan book deal since the controversy emerged.

The former banker was appointed to the NIAC on the recommendation of the DUP's then finance minister Sammy Wilson.

He began talks with US investment fund Pimco about buying the portfolio prior to leaving his NIAC post and without informing Nama.

The bid collapsed when Nama learned of his role. Senior officials told an astonished Dáil committee that he was to be paid £5m if the bid succeeded.

Cerberus then bought the portfolio, with Nama receiving assurances that no-one connected to Nama was to benefit from the deal.

However, covert footage recorded by BBC Spotlight shows Mr Cushnahan saying he was due a secret 'fixer's fee'.

Nama has made a complaint about Mr Cushnahan to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), the south's ethics watchdog.

The complaint relates to his dealings with Pimco and his shareholding in companies that had loans moved into Nama, thought to relate to the Graham property group.

Last year at Stormont's Nama inquiry, loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson alleged Mr Cushnahan was among five men set to share in a "success fee" linked to the northern Nama deal.

The others accused were former First Minister Peter Robinson, former Tughans solicitor Ian Coulter, accountant David Watters and developer Andrew Creighton.

All five have dismissed allegations and strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Tthe PSNI did not respond to requests on Thursday night for a comment. Mr Cushnahan's solicitor was also unavailable.

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