New taskforce in Northern Ireland to focus on offshore bank accounts
Anyone in Northern Ireland with an undeclared offshore bank account could be forgiven for feeling a little anxious.
Not only have revelations about the sale of Nama’s former assets in the North shone a spotlight on a certain offshore account but a new taskforce has just been unleashed which is determined to sniff out anyone who has failed to inform Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs they may have money hidden away.
According to HMRC, its taskforce is expected to recover nearly £18 million in Northern Ireland and it will be on the hunt not just for offshore bank accounts but other “badges of wealth” it says could include large houses, airplanes and boats – the kind of things many of Nama’s former debtors in the North were fond of during the property boom.
Ian McCafferty, HMRC’s Taskforce Lead, said people who pay the tax they are supposed to have nothing to worry about – the very obvious implication is everyone else should be very worried indeed.
The HMRC has not yet commented on whether it is likely to be drawn into the investigation by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) into the sale of Nama’s former assets, or the Project Eagle loan portfolio in Northern Ireland, to Cerberus Capital Management last April. But the fact the Police Service of Northern Ireland has called in the NCA to sift through the finer details of the Nama sale should also send ripples of worry through anyone, with even the remotest connection to the transaction, who has anything to hide.
National Crime Agency
The £7 million sitting in the offshore bank account – alleged to have belonged to Ian Coulter, the former managing partner of the Belfast law firm Tughans, who played a key advisory role in the Nama sale – may have been recovered but it is who it was destined for that will occupy the NCA.
The declaration by the Law Society, the regulatory body for solicitors in the North, that the money is “secure” while its own investigation – running since January – into the “circumstances” which led to Coulter’s resignation from Tughans continues is unlikely to shake out any potential recipients.
The Law Society has made it clear it exists to “regulate” solicitors and that, in reality, is where its power starts and finishes. It can refer individuals to the independent Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal, which has the power to impose financial penalties or strike them off. So it will come down to the NCA-PSNI team to find the people who would have stood to benefit from a share of the £7 million in that account.
The agency will not disclose if its investigation is actively under way in the North but it has already prompted at least one high-profile political leader to declare that neither he nor his family hoped to benefit financially from the sale of Nama’s former portfolio in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson said publicly last week “not one penny” was destined for his family or his party as a result of the Nama transaction with Cerberus Capital Management, estimated to be valued at more than £1.2 billion.
But the allegations by Independent TD Mick Wallace in the Dáil that the £7 million was reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or party have done little to help political tensions in the North always strained in July.
People face questions
Publicly, so far, there has been air of restraint by the majority of politicians. They have actively supported the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Finance and Personnel and its inquiry into the sale of Nama’s former assets. The committee, which has drawn up a wish list of people to question in relation to the sale, is scheduled to receive its first briefing from the Law Society on Thursday and also possibly a briefing from the Department of Finance and Personnel.
At least one member of this committee – the SDLP’s Dominic Bradley – believes politicians in Northern Ireland should be compelled to give evidence if they had any involvement in the Nama/Cerberus deal.
If that happens, the gloves will be off.