Two men face fraud charges over £1.2bn sale of Nama’s NI loans
Businessman Frank Cushnahan and lawyer Ian Coulter face prosecution over portfolio
Lawyer Ian Coulter and former banker Frank Cushnahan
Two senior business figures are to be prosecuted in connection with the UK National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation into the sale for £1.2 billion of Nama’s Northern Ireland property loan book, the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed on Thursday.
The service said two men, aged 78 and 49, are to face fraud charges in relation to what was the North’s largest ever property deal.
Though not named by the PPS, lawyers for the two men identified them as prominent Belfast businessman and former banker Frank Cushnahan and lawyer Ian Coulter.
Solicitor Joe Rice, who acts for Mr Cushnahan, said: “We are extremely disappointed with the decision taken ... to prosecute. We will be pleading not guilty to both allegations at any forthcoming criminal trial.”
Mr Coulter’s solicitor, John Finucane, also said his client was pleading his innocence.
“Today the PPS have confirmed that Mr Coulter will face a total of five charges arising out of the sale of the Nama loan book, known as Project Eagle, ” he said. “This follows a police investigation which has lasted in excess of five years.
“My client now enters into what will undoubtedly be a lengthy court process lasting years, where he will maintain his innocence to the offences alleged, as he has throughout this drawn out process.”
Six other people who were also investigated will not be charged. A decision was taken previously not to prosecute a ninth individual.
The inquiry is “not over yet”, said a senior NCA investigator.
“After consideration of a complex and substantial file submitted by NCA investigators, it has been decided that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute two suspects in connection with alleged activity around the property deal known as Project Eagle,” the PPS said in a statement.
The decision to prosecute relates to the controversial sale by Nama of its former Northern Ireland portfolio – Project Eagle – to US investment fund Cerberus in 2014, a sale that prompted a long-running investigation by the NCA.
The dispute over the sale of the Nama properties erupted in July 2015 when, under Dáil privilege, the then independent TD Mick Wallace, now an MEP, said that following from the Nama sale, £7 million was lodged into an Isle of Man account reportedly intended for Northern business and political figures.
In January the PPS confirmed it had received a file of evidence from the UK’s National Crime Agency that contained the names of eight potential suspects linked to allegations surrounding the £1.2 billion sale of Nama’s Northern Irish property portfolio. This was the second file to be passed to the PPS.
None of the eight suspects was publicly identified by either the NCA or the PPS. A ninth suspect was also investigated but a decision was taken in November 2018 not to prosecute that individual.
In relation to the six who are not to be charged, the PPS said it “concluded that there was insufficient evidence available to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction”.
Mr Cushnahan is to be charged with one count of fraud, contrary to section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006 involving a failure to disclose information between April 1st, 2013, and November 7th, 2013.
Both men are to be jointly charged with one count of fraud, contrary to section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006 involving a false representation made on or around the April 3rd, 2014.
Mr Coulter is to be further charged with one count of fraud involving a false representation made on or around September 11th, 2014; one count of fraud involving making an article in connection with a fraud on or about August 13th, 2014; two counts involving concealing, disguising or transferring criminal property between September 15th, 2014, and December 1st, 2014.
PPS assistant director Ciaran McQuillan said “a considerable volume of evidence” was “painstakingly examined by a team of experienced and senior prosecutors, with the benefit of advice from two senior counsel”.
“As a result, it has been concluded that there is sufficient evidence for two of those reported to be prosecuted for a number of serious charges,” she said.
“Whilst the test for prosecution was met in respect of two suspects, it was considered not met on evidential grounds in respect of seven further individuals with regard to the Project Eagle investigation,” added Mr McQuillan.
Mr McQuillan said that to protect the integrity of any future trial it was “extremely important” that “there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice those proceedings”.
NCA deputy director of investigations Craig Naylor said its “operation has been and remains an incredibly complex investigation, which is of enormous importance to the public in Northern Ireland and beyond”.
“Today’s announcement is therefore a significant milestone. I’m grateful to officers here in the NCA and colleagues in the PPS for their professionalism and commitment throughout, which has been instrumental in getting us to where we are,” he said.
“The investigation is not over yet. We have further lines of inquiry to follow up and we will continue to liaise as appropriate with PPS colleagues,” added Mr Naylor.
Nama said it was not commenting on the arrests.