Ex-Nama adviser Cushnahan ‘very close’ to Peter Robinson

Martin McGuinness tells PAC inquiry into Project Eagle of key players’ relationship

Martin McGuinness at the Public Accounts Committee Project Eagle hearing at Leinster House: “I think they were very, very close, that’s my view.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Martin McGuinness at the Public Accounts Committee Project Eagle hearing at Leinster House: “I think they were very, very close, that’s my view.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told TDs that he believed former first minister Peter Robinson and ex-Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan were “very close”.

Mr Cushnahan was a central figure in Nama’s controversial £1.6 billon Project Eagle sale of NI loans to US company Cerberus in 2014, which is being investigated by the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee.

One of the bidders for the loans, Pimco, left the Project Eagle auction in March 2014 after US law firm Brown Rudnick approached it seeking a £15 million fee that was to be shared with Mr Cushnahan and Ian Coulter, who was then head of Belfast solicitors Tughans.

Asked by committee member and Sinn Féin party colleague Mary Lou McDonald if he believed Mr Robinson and Mr Cushnahan were close, Mr McGuinness said: “I think they were very, very close, that’s my view”.

Mr Robinson’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) colleague Sammy Wilson, who was then Northern Ireland’s minister for finance and personnel, nominated Mr Cushnahan for membership of Nama’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee in 2010.

Project Eagle

Mr McGuinness claimed he was “excluded” from having anything to do with Project Eagle as relations between Sinn Féin and the DUP soured between 2013 and early 2014, when Nama decided to sell the loans. As a result, he knew nothing about meetings Mr Robinson had at different times with Pimco and Cerberus.

Mr Robinson and Mr Wilson met Pimco in 2013, along with Mr Cushnahan and Mr Coulter. Brown Rudnick had recruited the US firm as a possible buyer and then introduced it to Mr Coulter and Mr Cushnahan. Pimco’s interest ultimately prompted Nama to put Project Eagle on the market.

Mr Robinson subsequently met the Cerberus chairman, former US vice-president Dan Quayle, on March 23rd, 2014, in Stormont, two weeks before the Project Eagle deal was done. Mr McGuinness pointed out that when the pair attended a jobs announcement 90 minutes later, his executive colleague made no mention of the meeting.

Committee member and Labour TD Alan Kelly suggested Mr McGuinness deliberately avoided having anything to do with Project Eagle because he guessed it was potentially toxic. Mr McGuinness responded by accusing the deputy of “political point-scoring”.

Conference call

Mr McGuinness was on a conference call in January 2014 when Mr Robinson informed Minister for Finance Michael Noonan of pledges made by Pimco should it have succeeded in buying Project Eagle. These included a commitment to cancel developers’ personal guarantees to repay loans and writing off potentially hundreds of millions of their debts.

Mr McGuinness told the committee that the memo containing those commitments had no standing and was worthless.

Pimco’s departure in March 2014 left the field clear for Cerberus, which hired Brown Rudnick and Mr Coulter’s firm, Tughans, shortly before its bid succeeded. Cerberus has denied any wrongdoing and assured Nama that no one connected with the agency had worked on its bid.