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Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness with New York comptroller Bill Thompson Photo by: Getty

New York investor group earned $3 million for failing to act on Northern Ireland promise

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Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness with New York comptroller Bill Thompson Photo by: Getty

A high profile 2008 initiative that would have poured $150 million into cash strapped areas of Northern Ireland never saw the light of day.

Announced at the time by New York City comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., the investment officer for the city’s multi billion-dollar pension funds, the plan committed $150 million from the city's public employee pension funds to help bolster the peace process in the North.

'We talked to people about how peace would make Northern Ireland a great place for investment,' Thompson told the press in 2009.

The deal was signed on April 11 2008, in New York on the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement.

But according to the New York Times, twenty months later not a penny of that pension money had been invested in Northern Ireland.Thompson, pulled the plug on the investment in December 2010.

The decision to stop the much heralded investment is extremely unusual and the Times reports it has carried a significant cost.

The city has reportedly paid $3 million in management fees to Emerald Infrastructure Development Fund, the group of investors that had been chosen by Thompson’s office to invest in Ireland.

Emerald Infrastructure in turn reportedly paid $250,000 of the city's money to William Howell, an old friend and campaign contributor to Thompson.

According to the Times, Howell served as the deal's placement agent. He brought money managers who wanted a slice of city and state pension business together with pension trustees. But in 2009 New York City banned the use of placement agents after repeated scandals.

Hearing of Howell's lucrative role in the proceedings Thompson reportedly expressed his surprise at his old friend’s good fortune. 'I knew he had an involvement,' Thompson said. 'I just didn’t know he was the placement person.'

The latest revelation comes at a delicate time for Thompson, who is running for mayor, as he points to his role as steward of the city’s money. His tenure as comptroller is seen as his the best benchmark to gauge his experience as an executive.

Thompson reportedly took a personal interest in the Northern Ireland deal and helped to shape it over the course of two years. But now he argues that the deal went south because the Irish economy imploded in 2008. Thompson also reminded the press he was just one of more than 30 officials who signed off on the deal.

But critics counter that Thompson was the chief investment officer for the city, and responsible for guiding pension investments.

Emerald Development Managers, which ran the investment fund, reportedly offered several responses to the controversy on Monday. At first, the company stated that Howell had no affiliation with it. Later it acknowledged the proposed deal had 'originally classified Howell as a partner.'

Howell did not return several phone calls from the Times. The paper also claimed that New Mexico officials sued Howell and other placement agents, charging that they unjustly enriched themselves in a pension-placement scandal.

The original plan promised to be a difficult investment, the Times wrote. A fragile peace was holding in the North and investment in green energy, in waste treatment and in infrastructure, was needed.

At the time Thompson's office recommended Emerald Infrastructure Development Project, registered in the Cayman Islands and formed specifically for this investment contract.

None of the principals involved in the plan had much experience investing in Northern Ireland. The Times reported that Emerald’s original proposal did not even include an office in Northern Ireland.

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