Businessman Gareth Graham has settled his court action against US company Cerberus, distancing himself from allegations that it made corrupt payments and behaved illegally.
Mr Graham was challenging Cerberus's right to appoint administrators to two of his companies, Lehill Properties and STH500, which own commercial and residential buildings in Belfast.
In a statement published today in this newspaper, Mr Graham says he wishes “to make it plain that the legal proceedings between Cerberus, my business and me have been resolved to the full satisfaction of all parties”.
Under the settlement’s terms, Mr Graham will keep control of his companies and their properties, including Lyndon Hall in Belfast city centre, which a court blocked the administrators from selling last autumn, but will pay Cerberus’s legal costs.
Cerberus bought his companies' debts, giving it the right to demand their repayment, when it acquired the "Project Eagle" portfolio from the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) in a controversial €1.6 billion deal two years ago.
Mr Graham’s statement says that, whether at his or others’ instigation, various criminal and regulatory bodies are now investigating Project Eagle in
, the Republic and the US. He states that he now regrets any inadvertent harm to the Cerberus brand as a result of his actions.
“In particular, I wish to distance myself from the grave and serious allegations made against Cerberus and its affiliates regarding all alleged payments to “fixers” since, to the extent that it is possible for me to be, I am content that Cerberus is not, and was not, involved in any illegal conduct,” he says. His lawyers had argued that illegality could taint the sale.
Claims that business people and politicians were to benefit from the deal prompted an investigation by the UK's National Crime Agency. The Northern Ireland Assembly's finance and personnel committee, began its own inquiry. This week it criticised Nama and Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, in a report on its findings.
A number of developers, including Mr Graham, are understood to have complained to the Securities and
and department of justice in the US.
The Dáil's Committee of Public Accounts also questioned Nama's chairman, Frank Daly and chief executive, Brendan McDonagh. Cerberus has maintained all along that it always acted in accordance with the highest standards.
Its spokesman said "Mr Graham's comments are self-explanatory and consistent with everything Cerberus Capital Management has said on these matters to date".
Mr Graham says that when he began litigating against Cerberus, he did so in good faith and on the basis of what he understood to be the position regarding his business.
“With the passage of time, certain matters have become clearer,” he says. “Whilst I reserve my position in relation to other entities connected to Project Eagle, I do not believe that it is possible to maintain my complaints about Cerberus in relation to Project Eagle.”
He says he is looking forward to returning to his business and putting the affair behind, and says today’s statement represents the only public comment he will make on the matter.