Cerberus NI loan sale scandal deepens

The Northern Irish Assembly committee investigating the $1.2bn sale of assets to Cerberus heard allegations that a corrupt payment was intended for the benefit of the First Minister, Peter Robinson.

The finance and personnel committee of the Northern Irish Assembly has heard evidence from blogger Jaime Bryson relating to the sale of a £4.5 billion ($6.8 million; €6 million) face-value bundle of loans to US-based distressed manager, Cerberus.

Bryson alleged that Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, was among five intended beneficiaries of a £7 million success fee paid by Cerberus to Belfast law firm Tughans. 

The portfolio was sold to Cerberus for $1.2 billion in April by the Republic of Ireland’s bad bank, NAMA. 

Tughans fired its then managing partner, Ian Coulter, in January after an audit revealed that the payment had been redirected to an offshore account. Bryson alleged that Coulter was another of the five beneficiaries, while former NAMA Northern Irish advisory board member Frank Cushnahan was also named.

Bryson did not provide the committee with documentary evidence of his allegations, but did say that the evidence lies within Tughans. 

The UK’s National Crime Agency has launched a criminal investigation into the payment while the US Department of Justice is also reportedly looking into the deal. 

Liam Strong, chief executive of Cerberus European Capital Advisors, had been invited to give evidence at yesterday’s hearing but declined on the basis of legal advice as Cerberus is engaged in a court case with another witness who appeared before the committee, Gareth Graham. 

The portfolio, known as Project Eagle, hit the headlines in July when Mick Wallace, a member of the Irish parliament, revealed the redirected success fee under parliamentary privilege and alleged it was for the benefit of Northern Irish politicians. 

Cerberus and NAMA have both denied that they were aware of any payment outside the fees agreed with mandated advisors. 

PIMCO, which had been the frontrunner in the sale, was represented by Brown Rudnick, a US law firm, and Tughans before it withdrew and the legal firms switched to Cerberus.

In a report to an Irish parliamentary committee in July, NAMA revealed that PIMCO withdrew after the asset manager expressed concern that part of the fees it was paying to Brown Rudnick and Tughans included a payment to Cushnahan, who had resigned from NAMA months before the deal was completed.