N. Ireland Politics

Nama sale: Cerberus will not appear before finance committee

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Media captionCerberus has written to Stormont's finance committee to explain that for a variety of legal reasons it will not give oral evidence

Cerberus, the US investment fund, will not appear before a Stormont committee investigating the National Asset Management Agency's (Nama) loan sale.

Cerberus bought Nama's Northern Ireland loan book for more than £1.2bn in 2014.

It had been claimed in the Irish parliament that a Northern Ireland politician was to receive a payment as a result of the deal.

Cerberus has outlined a number of reasons for not appearing.

It has written to the Northern Ireland Assembly's finance committee to explain that for a variety of legal reasons it will not give oral evidence.

Critical

It states that while it wants to assist it "must act with care to ensure that we do not jeopardise the criminal or judicial process".

The National Crime Agency (NCA) is investigating the deal and it is understood that the US Department of Justice has also asked for information about it.

Cerberus also pointed to a continuing legal action involving the businessman Gareth Graham.

Mr Graham made highly critical comments about Cerberus during evidence to the committee earlier this month.

Cerberus said it was keen to address his "inaccurate statements", but had accepted legal advice that the High Court is "the proper forum" for this.

Bidder

The firm also restates that the sales process for the loan portfolio, know as Project Eagle, was "conducted with full integrity".

It also clarifies its relationship with the law firms Brown Rudnick and Tughans.

Image caption Belfast businessman Gareth Graham made highly critical comments about Cerberus during evidence to the finance committee earlier this month

Those firms had been advising a previous bidder, Pimco.

Pimco withdrew from the bidding process when it emerged that its fee arrangement with the firms was to involve a payment to Frank Cushnahan, a former Nama advisor.

Cerberus then engaged Brown Rudnick on what it terms "a success fee only basis", meaning a fee would only be paid if the deal was done.

Knowledge

Brown Rudnick agreed to share the success fee with Tughans.

Cerberus said it received "express confirmation" from both firms that no fee or commission was payable to any current or former Nama advisors.

It adds that to its "best knowledge" no improper or illegal payments have been made on its behalf in connection with Project Eagle.

The finance committee also learned that Cerberus had "contact" with four senior DUP politicians, and the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Cerberus has sought to defend its operations in Northern Ireland saying it has agreed to write-off almost £2bn of debt.

Meanwhile, some evidence sessions at the finance committee's inquiry could be held behind closed doors.

Reservations

The committee has agreed that some evidence could be taken in private with transcripts published later.

The transcripts could also be redacted, subject to legal advice.

The committee's decision follows a proposal from Judith Cochrane, an Alliance MLA who sits on the committee.

She was among members expressing reservations about how the committee would handle evidence from the loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson who is due to appear before the inquiry next week.

Mrs Cochrane said the arrangements give a "little bit of extra protection to ensure we stay within the terms of reference."

But the move was criticised by SDLP committee member Dominic Bradley, who said there already were "a number of mechanisms" that addressed those concerns.

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