Two men are to face fraud charges linked to Northern Ireland’s biggest-ever property deal, the region’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has announced.
The PPS decisions come after a long investigation by the National Crime Agency into the £1.2 billion sale of the Northern Ireland property loanbook held by the Irish Republic’s National Assets Management Agency (Nama).
The two men facing prosecution are prominent Belfast businessman and ex-Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan and solicitor Ian Coulter, a former managing partner in the law firm that worked on the deal, Tughans.
The loan book was sold to US investment fund Cerberus in 2014 in a deal named Project Eagle.
Two men face prosecution over alleged fraud offences following the NCA investigation into the NAMA Northern Ireland property deal.
Investigators submitted a file to @thePPSNI, who decided there is sufficient evidence for them to be charged.
— National Crime Agency (NCA) (@NCA_UK) August 6, 2020
Another US company, Pimco, withdrew an earlier bid after expressing concerns on how the transaction was to be structured.
Nama was set up by the Irish Government in 2009 during the financial crisis to off-load non-performing loans acquired from troubled banks.
Mr Cushnahan, 78, is to be charged with one count of fraud involving a failure to disclose information between April 1 2013 and November 7 2013.
Mr Cushnahan and Ian Coulter, 49, are also to be jointly charged with one count of fraud involving a false representation made on or around April 3 2014.
Mr Coulter is also to face four further charges:
– One count of fraud involving a false representation made on or around September 11 2014;
– One count of fraud involving making an article in connection with a fraud on or about August 13 2014;
– Two counts of the offence of concealing criminal property involving concealing, disguising or transferring criminal property between September 15 2014 and December 1 2014.
On Thursday, the PPS said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute six other people in relation to the sale.
In November 2018, the PPS announced a decision not to prosecute another individual.
PPS assistant director Ciaran McQuillan said: “A considerable volume of evidence submitted to the PPS has been painstakingly examined by a team of experienced and senior prosecutors, with the benefit of advice from two senior counsel.
“As a result, it has been concluded that there is sufficient evidence for two of those reported to be prosecuted for a number of serious charges.
“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.
“All decisions were taken in full accordance with the PPS code for prosecutors and only after a thorough consideration of all issues.”
Solicitor Joe Rice, representing Mr Cushnahan, made clear his client denied the allegations.
“We are extremely disappointed with the decision to prosecute,” he said.
“We will be pleading not guilty to both allegations at any forthcoming criminal trial.”
Solicitor John Finucane, representing Mr Coulter, said his client also denied all the allegations.
“Today the PPS have confirmed that Mr Coulter will face a total of five charges arising out of the sale of the Nama loanbook, known as Project Eagle,” he said.
“This follows a police investigation which has lasted in excess of five years.
“My client now 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.”
The PPS decisions announced on Thursday only relate to allegations linked to Project Eagle.
The NCA continues to investigate some additional matters that are not linked to Project Eagle.
Noting this, the PPS said further prosecutorial decisions could be made at a later time.
NCA deputy director of investigations Craig Naylor said: “This operation has been and remains an incredibly complex investigation, which is of enormous importance to the public in Northern Ireland and beyond.
“Today’s announcement is therefore a significant milestone.
“I’m grateful to officers here in the NCA and colleagues in the PPS for their professionalism and commitment throughout, which has been instrumental in getting us to where we are.
“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.”