Robinson rejects conflict of interest claims over Nama deal

DUP leader testifies at Stormont inquiry into sale of agency's portfolio

Northern Ireland’s former first minister Peter Robinson  is seen on screen testifying before the Nama inquiry at Stormont. Photograph: Pacemaker

Northern Ireland’s former first minister Peter Robinson is seen on screen testifying before the Nama inquiry at Stormont. Photograph: Pacemaker

 

DUP leader Peter Robinson believes there was “no conflict of interest” in ex-Nama Northern Ireland adviser Frank Cushnahan being involved in a meeting in 2013 with a potential buyer of its Northern loans portfolio while he was associated with the agency.

Mr Robinson, who has temporarily stood aside as First Minister as a result of the current political deadlock in the North, told the Stormont inquiry investigating the sale of Nama’s Northern loans portfolio, dubbed Project Eagle, that there was no conflict of interest based on the earlier assertion by the chairman of Nama, Frank Daly, that “no confidential information” was made available to the Northern Ireland advisory committee.

 

‘Outrageous’ claims

Mr Robinson described as “outrageous” claims by a previous witness at the inquiry, loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, that he personally stood to benefit from the Project Eagle sale.

Mr Robinson detailed for the first time yesterday how in May 2013 he was asked, along with the former Northern Ireland Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, to meet Pimco, a company that had expressed an interest in purchasing Nama’s local loans portfolio.

Pimco dropped out of the Project Eagle auction in March 2014 after telling Nama that it discussed paying £5 million in success fees each to Mr Cushnahan, who had been a member of the agency’s advisory board between 2010 and November 2013; Belfast solicitors Tughans; and US lawyers Brown Rudnick.

Nama’s sale of the loans for £1.241 billion last year to US investor Cerberus is at the centre of claims that Northern politicians and businessmen were to share £7.5 million that was transferred from Tughans to an Isle of Man bank account last year.

Cerberus hired the two law firms to work on its bid after Pimco dropped out, but assured Nama that Mr Cushnahan was not involved. The company denies any wrongdoing.

Mr Robinson told the Stormont inquiry: “I think you need to recognise that we saw the advisory committee as being on the Northern Ireland side of this issue, looking after the interests of Northern Ireland as opposed to looking after the interests of Nama – clearly if we had been successful in having a board member it would have been a very different fiduciary responsibility that they would have had.”

He said he could not be sure who set up that first meeting with Pimco. It was either Mr Cushnahan or Ian Coulter, the former managing partner of Tughans, he said.

The DUP leader said that they had made a case to him that development in the North was being “hindered” by the legal constraints on Nama and that local business interests “would be better served if the portfolio was sold on to some other organisation”.

Mr Robinson said he was also aware that Nama was likely to begin “the escalation of payment demands under personal, corporate and cross-company guarantees from Northern Ireland borrowers and this would mean an extraction of significant cash flows out of the local economy.”

 

Occasional meetings

It was against the backdrop he revealed to the inquiry that “over the course of this period I would have met with Frank and/or Ian from time to time, mostly on the margins of other engagements or events”.

Mr Robinson stated: “The purpose of these contacts was to seek to ensure that whether with Pimco, Cerberus or any other bidder, we would have the best possible assurance as to how any purchaser would operate here.”

Mr Robinson also disputed a statement given to the inquiry by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, indicating that he had been kept in the dark about the Nama sale process.

“From the creation of Nama, through the sale of its Northern Ireland portfolio and until recently Ministers spoke with one voice on every element of this process,” Mr Robinson said.