Stormont committee convenes emergency session on Nama row

‘There are questions that need to be answered and they need to be answered quickly,’ says committee chairman

The Parliament Buildings in the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Photograph: PA/Paul Faith.

The Parliament Buildings in the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Photograph: PA/Paul Faith.

 

The North Assembly’s finance committee is due to meet tomorrow in emergenecy session to consider allegations by TD Mick Wallace that £7 million was lodged into an offshore account reportedly destined for a Northern Ireland politician or party following the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland property portfolio.

Daithi McKay, the Sinn Féin chairman of the committee, said tonight that the committee hopes to begin hearing evidence from interested parties next week.

Mr McKay is to propose that various parties, including Mr Wallace and representatives of Nama, of US company Cerberus and of the Belfast firm of solicitors Tughans should give evidence to the inquiry. He also wants individuals including solicitor Ian Coulter and a former advisor to Nama in Northern Ireland, Frank Cushnahan to give evidence.

“I believe there are a number of reputations at stake here and there will be public pressure for these parties to come before the committee,” said Mr McKay. “There are questions that need to be answered and they need to be answered quickly.”

A spokesman for Tughans said the firm welcomed the “finance committee’s intention to hold an enquiry and looks forward to participating”. A spokesman for Nama said no request had been received. “If a request is received, we will deal it at that stage.”

Mr Wallace has yet to confirm whether or not he will attend. Mr Coulter and Mr Cushnahan have not been available for comment.

The SDLP is also seeking to recall the Northern Assembly from its summer recess to discuss the allegations.

The decision to convene the emergency meeting of the finance committee follows concerns expressed in the Dáil last week by Mr Wallace about the sale of Nama’s 850-property portfolio in Northern Ireland, known as Project Eagle. The portfolio originally valued at £4.5 billion was sold to the US private equity firm Cerberus for less than £1.5 billion.

Mr Wallace said a routine audit at Tughans solicitors had found that £7 million relating to the sale had been diverted to an Isle of Man account “reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician” or political party.

Tughans subsequently disclosed that this money ended up in an account of which Mr Coulter, managing partner at the company, was sole beneifciary. It said the money was retrieved and that Mr Coulter had left the company.

Tughans said that Mr Coulter acted without the knowledge of other partners and that the Law Society in Northern Ireland was investigating the matter.

Mr Coulter earlier this year also stood down as chairman of the Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland.