Secret recording alleges ex-Nama adviser accepted £40,000 in car park

McGuinness seeks cross-Border Nama inquiry after Frank Cushnahan cash claims

Nama's former Northern Ireland adviser Frank Cushnahan, who is at the centre of a controversy over a massive property deal, has been secretly recorded accepting a £40,000 (€48,000) cash payment from a Nama borrower according to a BBC Spotlight programme broadcast on Tuesday.

The recording was allegedly made in a hospital car park in 2012, when Mr Cushnahan was still working as an adviser to Nama.

The programme revealed audio recordings made by Co Down property developer John Miskelly in a hospital car park in 2012, at a time when Mr Cushnahan was working as an adviser to Nama, a position he held until 2013.

Nama was set up in 2009 to deal with underperforming loans held by Irish banks.

The deal by Nama with US investment giant Cerberus involving the proposed £1.2 billion sale of a Northern Ireland property loan portfolio has been dogged by controversy after £7 million linked to it was found in an Isle of Man bank account.

According to the programme, Mr Miskelly allegedly gave Mr Cushnahan £40,000 cash during a meeting in a meeting in a car outside the Royal Victoria Hospital in August 2012.

Mr Miskelly is recorded as saying: “There’s £40,000 in that and it’s in bundles of two, Frank.”

Mr Cushnahan was going to assist Mr Miskelly refinance his loans which would allow him to take his assets out of Nama, the recording suggests.

The programme also said Mr Cushnahan gave Mr Miskelly a note allegedly saying what each of his Nama properties were worth.

It is understood that these alleged incidents, if confirmed by subsequent investigation, would represent a conflict of interest and breach of confidence and would beamount to a breach of Irish law.

It is currently unclear whether they would constitute a breach of the law in Northern Ireland.

Responding to the allegations, the former head of the Dail's Public Accounts Committee, John McGuiness called for an all-Ireland inquiry into Nama.

Mr McGuinness says a “cross-Border effort must be made to get to the end of this, to get to the truth”.

Two months ago John McGuinness voted against a commission of inquiry but in light of the Spotlight programme, he is now calling for an all island commission.

In the Spotlight programme Mr Cushnahan also implied he had influence over senior Nama official Ronnie Hanna, a former Head of Assets, telling Mr Miskelly the two men were "as thick as thieves".

No evidence of impropriety by Mr Hanna has been discovered and he has denied any wrongdoing.

When approached by Spotlight, Mr Hanna vehemently denied he and Mr Cushnahan were “as thick as thieves” or that he had any improper dealings with him.

Mr Cushnahan declined to respond to allegations presented by to him by Spotlight, as he said the National Crime Agency (NCA) was continuing to investigate.

A statement from Mr Miskelly to the programme makers said he has consistently reported crime and corruption to the relevant authorities and any payments he made have been lawful and legitimate.

He said: “Since 2007/8 I have consistently and truthfully reported financial crime and corruption with the relevant authorities…

“My overriding aim has always been to highlight wrongdoing and corruption and have all of these matters fully investigated by the appropriate authorities.

“I have at all time made clear, that payments made by me to any persons have been lawful and legitimate.

“As a witness I am participating in the ongoing investigations by the NCA and authorities in the United States and in the interest of integrity of the judicial process I am unable to make any further comment.”

On Wednesday the UUP leader and leader of the formal opposition at Stormont Mike Nesbitt told The Irish Times there were things he found strange about the recording.

“£40,000? When you think of the sums of money involved [in Project Eagle] was that a deposit? It just doesn’t sound right. Miskelly said something about ‘interview terminated. That’s like a police thing?”

Mr Nesbitt said he was deeply concerned about the impact the Nama controversy will have on Northern Ireland’s reputation around the world.

“We are trying to develop an international reputation that says we are open for business, but we are developing a reputation as a place to do funny business,” he said.

“But if we have this reputation as a banana republic who is going to want to do business in Northern Ireland?

On Wednesday morning members of the Stormont Finance Committee held over an hour of private discussions which centred on the recent controversy involving the resignation of the former head of Stormont's Project Cerberus inquiry, Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay.

He resigned after he admitted private contacts with a Loyalist blogger, Jamie Bryson before Bryson gave evidence to the inquiry.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "The revelations in the Spotlight programme allege a circle of corruption involving certain individuals in the business community, some of whom had links to government figures."

“There must be an immediate and comprehensive investigation through whichever avenue has the best chance of achieving truth, transparency and justice.”

“An all-island Commission of Investigation is now required so that the full extent of these allegations can be understood and acted upon. The Border cannot be allowed to block the path of justice.

Speaking in connection with Mr. Cushnahan's alleged association with senior DUP figures, Mr Eastwood said the DUP has some "serious work to do" to the remove the perception the programme presented. "That requires urgent answers from the former First Minister Peter Robinson and Sammy Wilson.

There is no evidence Mr Robinson and Mr Wilson were aware of this payment.

“There are also questions for Sinn Féin. Where were they when all of this was going on? There appear only two possibilities - they were either negligent or they were silent.”