Northern Ireland

Loans sold to Cerberus causing 'unbelievable stress' committee hears

Cerberus website
Image caption Cerberus is best known for buying more than £1bn of loans from the Republic of Ireland's National Assets Management Agency (Nama) in 2014

Some business people whose bank loans have been sold to the Cerberus investment fund are suffering "unbelievable stress", Stormont has been told.

The enterprise committee was hearing evidence from an accountancy firm which represents some borrowers.

It said that Cerberus's approach had left people feeling "trapped" and "fearful".

But in a statement Cerberus said it is "fair and consistent" in its approach.

The US investment fund added that it has reached "consensual outcomes" with the vast majority of borrowers.

It is best known for buying more than £1bn of loans from the Republic of Ireland's National Assets Management Agency (Nama).

But it also spent a similar amount buying loans from Ulster Bank.

The evidence from financial advisors Bell & Co focused on the experience of former Ulster Bank borrowers.

Terry Bell told the committee he was not there to "bash" Cerberus and appreciates that the fund has to make a return on its money.

Cerberus expects borrowers to repay their loans quickly either by selling properties or finding new lenders.

Firms like Bell & Co negotiate on behalf of borrowers.

Mr Bell was critical of a lack of transparency from Cerberus during negotiations, particularly in regard to property valuations.

The committee heard that Cerberus was consistently rejecting valuation reports on properties that borrowers want to sell in order to clear debts.

Claire McCarragher, from Bell & Co, said Cerberus would write back to say it rejected the valuation but would not tell them what they thought the property was worth.

Mr Bell said his clients had "hung on for five or 10 years" and want some finality, but need to know what "the rules of the game" are.

He claimed that if Cerberus appointed receivers to the businesses he represents 140 jobs would be at risk.

Cerberus's statement added that since 2014 it has have written off more than £3bn in debt in Northern Ireland.

It said that had "helped to strengthen the local economy, creating jobs and the stimulus for growth that has enabled others to invest and recruit for the future".

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