The leader of the Democratic Unionist party, Peter Robinson, is suing an Irish politician for libel over allegations made in tweets sent about the government’s sale of £4.5bn of property assets.
Mick Wallace used Dáil parliamentary privilege earlier this year to claim that £7m was secretly set aside by American investors for an Ulster politician to ensure the sale of the properties across Northern Ireland.
Robinson’s lawyer Paul Tweed, whose clients include Britney Spears, Liam Neeson and Justin Timberlake, said the former first minister has served notice on Wallace over the leftwing Dáil deputy’s Twitter remarks.
“I can confirm that notice has been served due to a highly defamatory tweet. If we do not get a satisfactory response, then action will follow,” said Tweed.
He added that a case could be taken against the Independent leftwing deputy in either Northern Ireland or the Republic given that the tweet was made outside of the southern Irish parliament.
In a letter sent to Wallace, Tweed wrote that the politician made “an extremely serious, false and defamatory allegation” in a tweet.
Tweed alleged in his communication to Wallace that the tweet was “clearly made for your own self-publicity rather than in support of your claim to be acting in the public interest”.
Wallace’s original allegations in the Irish parliament has sparked a National Crime Agency investigation into the sale of the multibillion pound property portfolio.
An inquiry has also been set up inside the Northern Ireland assembly into the sale of the properties to US firm Cerberus Capital Management in April.
The properties were originally owned by the National Assets Management Agency (Nama), which was set up in the Republic to take over houses, flats and commercial premises that had to be nationalised after the global financial crash.
The sale of the Northern Irish-based Nama properties was called Operation Eagle and was the biggest selloff of the toxic assets caused by property speculators going under during the recession.
Robinson has said that he held talks with Cerberus executives including former US vice-president Dan Quayle to discuss the selloff. The DUP leader has repeatedly denied he made any personal financial gain out of the sale.
At the time of Wallace’s allegations in parliament, Robinson stated: “For some time I have made clear the danger to the local economy of leaving valuable assets undeveloped and the threat that these posed to otherwise profitable businesses. I believe that this deal can be of real benefit to our economy,”
Robinson’s decision to hire Tweed is highly significant given that the Belfast-based lawyer has a formidable reputation as one of the world’s leading libel experts. His client list includes some of the biggest names in Holywood and the pop music industry such as Harrison Ford, Nicholas Cage and Jennifer Lopez.
He first came to prominence in 1985 over the “cream bun case” when he sued Irish tabloid The Sunday World over false claims that two of Northern Ireland’s top lawyers fought over the last bun in a shop in Holywood, County Down. The QCs were each awarded £50,000 in court making the chocolate eclair arguably the most expensive in culinary history.
Wallace vowed on Friday to defend himself against any libel action in the courts, north or south of the Irish border. He released a statement through his solicitor, Gareth Noble who said: “I can confirm that deputy Wallace has received a letter of complaint from Mr Robinson and we will respond in full to that letter in the coming days.
“Deputy Wallace has a proud record of highlighting important matters in the public interest in relation to issues which demand transparency, openness and accountability. He shall not be distracted or deterred from continuing his work by the threat of legal action.
“It is not considered that the commentary referred to on social media was in any way defamatory. We note that Mr Robinson himself has given interviews to the media, including the BBC, where he was asked to address issues around the Nama controversy.
“Should Mr Robinson with to pursue the matter, in whichever jurisdiction he opts for, the action will be defended in full and all the arguments will be fully ventilated at that point.”
This article was written by Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 18th September 2015 18.26 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010