Northern Ireland

Nama: Two men to be charged over NI's biggest property deal

Ian Coulter (left) and Frank Cushnahan (right)
Image caption Ian Coulter (left) and Frank Cushnahan (right) are to be charged over the Nama loan sale

Two men are to be charged as part of a criminal investigation into Northern Ireland's biggest-ever property deal.

It relates to the 2014 sale of £1.2bn in property loans by the Republic of Ireland's state asset agency Nama to US investment firms.

It is understood the two to be charged are businessman Frank Cushnahan, 78, and lawyer Ian Coulter, 49.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said there was "sufficient evidence" to jointly charge the men with fraud.

The National Asset Management Agency (Nama) was set up by the then Irish government to deal with toxic loans after Ireland's banking crisis in 2008.

Nine people had been placed under investigation in 2017 by the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) for allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption.

The NCA passed a file for consideration to the PPS in 2018.

On Thursday, the PPS said it would not prosecute six individuals, while a decision was previously taken in 2018 not to prosecute a further suspect.

Mr Cushnahan is to be charged with fraud for allegedly failing to disclose information between 1 April, 2013 and 7 November, 2013.

Mr Coulter is alleged to have made a false representation on or around 11 September, 2014, making an article in connection with a fraud on or about 13 August, 2014 and two counts of concealing, disguising or transferring criminal property between 15 September, 2014 and 1 December, 2014.

Both men are accused of making a false representation made on or around 3 April, 2014.

Mr Coulter's solicitor, John Finucane, said his client "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".

Mr Cushnahan's solicitor, Joe Rice, said his client denied the charges against him.

"We are extremely disappointed with the decision that has been taken to prosecute and we will be pleading not guilty at any forthcoming criminal trial."

No date has yet been set for the two men to appear in court.

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption Nama, which was established in 2009, is based in the Irish Treasury Building in Dublin

The PPS said the investigation focused on the sale and attempted sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book, called Project Eagle, to two US investment firms.

PPS assistant director Ciaran McQuillan said the organisation had been working "in close partnership" with the NCA and had "painstakingly examined" a considerable volume of evidence.

"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," he said.

"As criminal proceedings will commence in due course and each defendant has the right to a fair trial, it is extremely important to protect the integrity of any future trial that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice those proceedings."

'Significant milestone'

NCA deputy director of investigations Craig Naylor described the prosecutions as a "significant milestone".

"This operation has been and remains an incredibly complex investigation, which is of enormous importance to the public in Northern Ireland and beyond," 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."

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