Stormont committee to ‘drill down to details’ of Nama row

Mick Wallace alleges NI politician or party may have been set to benefit £7 million from sale

The Parliament Buildings in the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Photograph: PA/Paul Faith.

The Parliament Buildings in the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Photograph: PA/Paul Faith.

 

The Stormont finance committee met today to discuss the allegations by independent TD Mick Wallace that a Northern Ireland politician or party may have been set to benefit by up to £7 million as a result of a Nama sale.

The meeting was convened by the Sinn Féin chairman of the committee Daithi McKay who said that “there are questions that need to be answered and they need to be answered quickly” arising from Mr Wallace’s claims.

Opening the meeting Mr McKay said it was “important to drill down and get to the details of the case”. He said there was also an issue of public confidence around the claims.

Sinn Féin committee member Mairtin O’ Muilleoir said that the Leinster House Public Accounts Committee was also examining the allegations and it was important that there should be “close cooperation” between the PAC and the Stormont finance committee.

Ulster Unionist MLA Leslie Cree said the claims were “casting a shadow on all of us” and it was therefore important to try to get to the bottom of the case.

The decision to hold the emergency meeting of the finance committee today follows from concerns expressed in the Dáil last week by Mr Wallace about the sale, known as Project Eagle, of a Nama 850-property portfolio in Northern Ireland. The portfolio, originally valued at £4.5 billion, was sold to the US private equity firm Cerberus for less than £1.5 billion.

Mr Wallace said that a routine audit at Tughans solicitors had found that £7 million relating to the sale had been diverted to an Isle of Man account “reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician” or political party.

Mr O’ Muilleoir said it had to be established was Nama somehow compromised in the sale of the huge portfolio in that “was there less money paid than should have been paid”.

He said the committee should also seek to establish “were there any kick-backs” paid to anybody involved or were there “any fixers involved” in the process.

The committee today came up with a provisional list of people and businesses who should be invited to give evidence to its inquiry. It hopes to hold its first hearings on Wednesday and Thursday of next week.

Committee chairman Mr McKay said “We will be inviting a number of key players concerned. A number of these players have said that they have nothing to hide, that they have done nothing untoward, so there should no issue with them attending.”

Among several witnesses it wants to hear from are Ian Coulter, Tughans solicitors and the Law Society in Northern Ireland.

Mr Coulter is the former managing partner of Tughans in whose personal Isle of Man account, according to Tughans, the £7 million was lodged.

Tughans said that money was retrieved and that Mr Coulter subsequently left the company.

He also stood down as head of the Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland. The Law Society is investigating the alleged actions of Mr Coulter.

It also wants to hear evidence from Brian Rowntree and Frank Cushnahan who were Northern Ireland advisors to Nama. It also wants to speak to Mr Cushnahan in his capacity as an advisor to Tughans and his linkage to the disposal of Nama’s Northern Ireland portfolio.

It wants to hear from Nama and from Mr Wallace who, as the finance chairman Mr McKay said today, with his allegations “kicked the whole thing off last week”.

“He obviously has some information that would be useful to the committee, and we would certainly welcome his participation in our inquiries,” he said.

The committee also wants to speak to representatives from Cerebrus who bought the portfolio and from Pimco, another US investment firm, which had been interested in purchasing the 850-property portfolio.

The committee also decided that former DUP finance minister Sammy Wilson who was involved in Nama discussions with the late Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan should be asked to give evidence.

It also said any politicians who had relevant dealings with Cerebrus and/or Pimco should give evidence.

SDLP committee member Dominic Bradley said that one of key allegations was that politicians were involved. “It would be remiss to call legal personnel and business people and property speculators and so on and not to call politicians,” he said.

“There is evidence that politicians met with Pimco and with Cerebrus. I think those politicians should be witnesses during our investigations. Otherwise we would stand to be accused of calling on others except politicians to task,” he added.

The chairman Mr McKay agreed. He said, “We are making a public call today that if any elected representatives have information that is of relevance to the committee they should bring it forward and bring it forward now and not say somewhere down the line that they were not aware of this call.”

DUP committee member Paul Girvan said it was important to start hearing evidence as soon as possible as with the rumours of political involvement in a “dirty scheme” there was “a cloud hanging over this place”.

“Potentially that has an impact on how this institution is viewed, albeit probably not very well, I think it is vitally important that we move as quickly as possible to get some resolutions to the matter,” he added.

Committee chairman Mr McKay said that the committee had the power to compel witnesses to give evidence.

He said if there were indications that some people would not take up invitations to attend then the committee should consider using those compulsion powers.