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Friday 2 December 2016

€1.6bn Nama deal in the spotlight as two freed in fraud probe

John Mulgrew and Gordon Deegan

Published 02/06/2016 | 02:30

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir: told to release Project Eagle data
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir: told to release Project Eagle data

The Stormont Finance Minister has been told to release any information his department holds on the controversial Project Eagle property deal.

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The finance committee in the North is looking at resumed examination of the €1.6bn sale of properties held by Nama.

It comes after two men arrested by officers investigating claims of fraud were released on bail yesterday.

A spokesman said the two had been bailed pending further inquiries.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) detained the pair in relation to the huge sale of loans previously owned by Nama to US investment fund Cerberus in 2014.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has resisted calls for an inquiry into the sale of the Nama loans in Northern Ireland, despite the ongoing investigation in the North,

But Stormont's new finance committee confirmed that it would now write to the assembly's new Finance Minister, Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, to ask for additional documents relating to the Nama loan sale.

The deputy chair Claire Hanna, of the SDLP, said the "rigorous investigation" would continue.

Ms Hanna said she was "determined to ensure that from day one our message to the public on this matter was that they could have fullest confidence; we would pursue the truth rigorously and with full transparency".

She said there needs to be a "wider audit of issues relating to the individuals involved in this deal and their roles outside and inside government".

The criminal investigation into the sale of Nama's northern assets and property loans Cerberus was sparked by the discovery of a Stg£7m offshore transfer to an Isle of Man bank.

All parties involved in the £1.2bn transaction have consistently denied any suggestions of wrongdoing.

The Finance Committee conducted its own inquiry in the last 12 months, as did the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee.

The Stormont committee produced what was essentially an interim report earlier this year before the Assembly was dissolved ahead of last month's election.

New Finance Committee chairwoman Emma Pengelly stressed the need to ensure its examination of Project Eagle, as the loan sale was named, did not prejudice the fraud investigation by the NCA.

"We need to be very careful we don't prejudice justice and the ongoing investigations into this," she said.

She added: "I am indicating that I think we should have an early discussion with the NCA before we have any other substantive discussion around this matter just to ensure we keep ourselves absolutely right on this and we keep everybody else right on this."

Separately, it emerged that Nama has commenced "a comprehensive root and branch review" of its operations as part of a planned restructuring.

Documents released through the Freedom of Information Act show that the Nama board has opted for the review of its infrastructural and cost base requirements.

The minutes of the agency's March 'Strategy Away Day' meeting at the Herbert Park hotel in Dublin 4 show that the Agency's Chief Financial Office (CFO), Donal Rooney put forward two 'downsizing options'.

Nama's deleveraging programme, or the sell-off of debtors' loans, is anticipated to be largely complete by the end of this year.

But the minutes record that the board agreed that 'downsizing' was a misnomer for the proposed restructuring of Nama.

The minutes show that following further detailed discussion, the board requested a preliminary scoping paper, setting out the parameters for the restructuring review that was to be presented in May, and review findings to be presented to the board in September.

Irish Independent

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