Northern Ireland news

Calls for Nama probe in Dáil

(Clockwise from left) Gareth and Peter Robinson, TD Mick Wallace, Tughans' office in Belfast and former Nama member Frank Cushnanan

Calls have been made in the Dáil for an independent inquiry into the Nama financial scandal.

Fianna Fail leader Michéal Martin said the allegations surrounding the sale of Northern Ireland property loans held by Nama are “murky” and “dark”.

He said the allegations “need to be fully investigated as this is another matter of serious public interest”.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams also called for an investigation. He told the Dáil: "Sinn Féin has little confidence that the government is protecting the public interest."

Earlier today, Stormont's Finance Committee agreed to schedule urgent hearings with key witnesses regarding the sale, including: 

  • Mick Wallce, the independent TD who last week alleged that £7m related to Nama's sale of Northern Ireland property loans was earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician.
  • Frank Cushnahan and Brian Rowntree, two external members who sat on the Nama NI advisory committee.
  • Another US investment firm that withdrew from the bidding process, Pimco.
  • The Law Society, which regulates solicitors and is investigating events at Tughans.
  • Other legal firms that did work for Cerberus - Brown Rudnick and A&L Goodbody.

Today's developments come after The Irish News exclusively revealed this morning that First Minister Peter Robinson's son was employed by the Belfast law firm at the centre of the Nama financial scandal.

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.

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.

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Related stories:

Peter Robinson's son worked for Nama deal law firm
Former Nama member Frank Cushnahan had close ties to the DUP
Stormont calls for anyone with Nama information to come forward
Peter Robinson: I met with US firm over Nama portfolio
Analysis: Questions in the Nama sale which remain unanswered
Allister says 'immediate questions need answered on 'NAMAgate'
TD claims further revelations to come on NI Nama sale
Peter Robinson: I met with US firm over Nama portfolio
Secret tapes stored on £7m Nama deal
Explosive claims about £7m 'earmarked for politician"

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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".

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