Sunday 4 December 2016

New files being sought by Stormont's Project Eagle inquiry

Simon Rowe

Published 19/06/2016 | 02:30

The Stormont finance committee produced what was essentially an interim report earlier this year before the Assembly was dissolved ahead of elections in May (Stock picture)
The Stormont finance committee produced what was essentially an interim report earlier this year before the Assembly was dissolved ahead of elections in May (Stock picture)

Northern Ireland's Department of Finance has until tomorrow to respond to a request to provide the committee investigating the controversial 'Project Eagle' sale with any new documents discovered in a fresh trawl of government files.

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The high-powered Stormont finance committee has ordered department officials to "provide any further relevant papers which it may hold" in relation to the review of the controversial €1.6bn loan book sale by Nama to US investment fund Cerberus.

The scrutiny committee has also called for a full briefing by the UK crime agency investigating Northern Ireland's biggest ever property deal.

Committee chairwoman, DUP MLA Emma Pengelly, stressed the need to ensure its examination of the sale did not prejudice the long-running fraud investigation by the UK's National Crime Agency.

The criminal investigation was sparked by the discovery of a £7m offshore cash transfer to an Isle of Man bank account, allegations of 'fixer's fees' and alleged links to politicians in Northern Ireland.

The Project Eagle sales process, which was described as "a dirty scheme" by the north's Finance Minister Mairtin O'Muilleoir when he was a former member of the Stormont committee, has been the subject of parliamentary probes on both sides of the border, as well as an investigation by US authorities.

Nama signed off on the Project Eagle deal in April 2014 by selling 800 property-linked loans to Cerberus, a multi-billion euro fund which boasts former US vice president Dan Quayle as its chairman.

The Stormont finance committee produced what was essentially an interim report earlier this year before the Assembly was dissolved ahead of elections in May.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has rejected calls for a state inquiry, insisting that no allegations of wrongdoing had been made against Nama.

But he is coming under severe pressure to establish a formal inquiry, with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin describing the Government's refusal to act on the matter as "not tenable".

Mr Martin said: "As revelations emerge, and as the levels of the investigations get deeper, the Government's position in relation to the sale of Project Eagle by Nama is, in my view, more untenable by the day," he added. Mr Martin also claimed there were huge ethical questions over the sale of the portfolio, and predicted new explosive evidence will emerge in the coming weeks.

"The deal is tainted - of that there can be no question," he told the Dail this week.

"There seems to be a sense of a connection, of a nexus, between politics and all of this in the North as well. That may emerge in the coming weeks."

The NCA detained two men in recent weeks as part of its ongoing probe.

Both individuals were questioned and bailed.

The North's Department of Finance and Personnel had not responded, at the time of going to press, to a number of questions sent by the Sunday Independent regarding the possible release of previously confidential documents.

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