Former Nama adviser sought more than £5m, letter says

Frank Cushnahan wanted fee from Project Eagle bidder, Pimco legal officer claims

Former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan sought more than £5 million (€5.8 million) in fees from a bidder for the agency's Northern Ireland loans while he was still a member of the State body's Northern advisory committee, it has emerged.

Mr Cushnahan is a central figure in the controversy over Nama's sale of the loans, known as Project Eagle, to US company Cerberus in April 2014 for €1.6 billion.

The Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the UK's National Crime Agency are investigating the transaction.

In a letter to the PAC read into the record on Thursday, Tom Rice, chief legal officer with another bidder, Pimco, stated that US lawyers Brown Rudnick twice sought millions in "success fees" from the company that were to be shared with Mr Cushnahan and Ian Coulter, then head of Belfast solicitors Tughans.

Brown Rudnick partner Tuvi Keinan had introduced Mr Cushnahan and Mr Coulter to Pimco the previous April. Mr Rice said Pimco was one of three companies they had approached as potential purchasers of what became Project Eagle.

Mr Rice said Brown Rudnick first approached Pimco seeking £16 million if the company succeeded in buying the loans from Nama in June 2013, before Mr Cushnahan resigned from the advisory committee the following October.

“Pimco was advised by Brown Rudnick that the fee [later advised by Brown Rudnick to total £16 million] was to be paid to Brown Rudnick and then split in equal one-third shares between Brown Rudnick, Tughans and Mr Cushnahan,” his letter said.

“Pimco was later advised that Tughans’ one-third share was to be paid to Mr Coulter, personally, rather than the law firm Tughans,” Mr Rice added.

The US company refused and asked Brown Rudnick if it had told Nama of Mr Cushnahan’s likely involvement.

Brown Rudnick made its second request in February 2014, once the formal Project Eagle auction was under way, this time for £15 million. The US company told Nama about the proposed fee and Mr Cushnahan’s involvement.

Pimco never agreed to pay the money but it pulled out of the auction on March 12th. Mr Rice said that his company was disappointed that Nama had “repeatedly mischaracterised” its withdrawal.

Nama maintains that it left Pimco with no choice but to leave. However, Mr Rice said that on a phone call on March 11th his firm told the agency that it did not want to be involved in a process where there was any suggestion of impropriety.

He stated that on a follow-up call, Nama asked if Pimco had considered other options, such as proceeding without Mr Cushnahan, Mr Coulter and Brown Rudnick. The company agreed to give the matter final consideration but the next day told the State agency that it had no option but to withdraw.

Game changer

Nama rejected any suggestion that it did not set out the circumstances of Pimco’s withdrawal accurately. “The Nama board was very clear that, if Pimco did not withdraw, then Nama would exit them,” it said on Thursday.

The successful bidder, Cerberus, subsequently hired Tughans and Brown Rudnick, but assured Nama that no-one connected with the agency was working for it. Mr Coulter transferred £6 million of a £7.5 million fee from the law firm to an account in the Isle of Man.

While he then returned the cash, he resigned from Tughans after a routine audit discovered the transaction.

BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme this year recorded Mr Cushnahan claiming that the money was meant for him.

PAC member and Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald described Pimco’s letter as a game changer and said it called Nama’s statements into question.

In response, the agency asked if it was appropriate for a committee member to reach conclusions before hearing all the evidence.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas

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