Wednesday 1 March 2017

Nama inquiry chair says loan sale probe ‘is being stymied’

Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Sinn Féin MLA Daithi McKay, who chairs the Northern Ireland finance committee
Sinn Féin MLA Daithi McKay, who chairs the Northern Ireland finance committee

The head of a parliamentary inquiry into the controversial sale of Nama’s Northern loan portfolio has alleged efforts are being made to hinder its investigation.

The probe, launched by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s committee on finance and personnel, has had difficulty making progress since it was launched last month.

Its chairman, Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay, said the latest stumbling block arose from a letter issued by the head of the North’s civil service, Dr Malcom McKibben.

The letter is said to have warned senior colleagues of the potential to prejudice a police investigation into the €1.6bn sale of the portfolio to US vulture fund Cerberus last year.

At a meeting of the inquiry today, Mr McKay said: “We are aware there are some efforts to stymie this inquiry.”

One senior civil servant, the permanent secretary of the North’s Department of Finance, David Sterling, has already been blocked from reappearing at the committee by his minister, Arlene Foster, on the grounds that the police probe could be impacted.

However, Mr McKay insisted today that the National Crime Agency (NCA), the UK equivalent of the FBI, had cleared the way for the committee’s inquiry to proceed.

“We have already met with the NCA and they have raised no concerns about our inquiry and our terms of reference. I repeat, no concerns,” he said.

The committee’s probe was launched after Independent TD Mick Wallace alleged Stg£7m in an Isle of Man account had been earmarked for a northern politician or party in connection with the deal.

Although the committee cannot investigate alleged criminality, it is able to probe other issues surrounding the deal.

It is seeking to quiz former Northern finance ministers Sammy Wilson and Simon Hamilton about contacts they had with bidders for the portfolio.

The committee is also seeking information on the circumstances surrounding the drafting of a memorandum of understanding between the Office of the First Minister, Peter Robinson, and a failed bidder, investment firm Pimco.

The agreement would have seen favourable treatment of Nama debtors in the event of Pimco successfully acquiring the portfolio.

Mr McKay expressed frustration that both of the former finance ministers had yet to fully commit to appearing before the committee.

Both politicians had sought and received assurances that the committee would stay within its terms of reference, he said.

“The NCA has raised no concerns with us about Sammy Wilson and Simon Hamilton coming to this committee, so I fail to see what these parties have to hide,” he said.

The committee chairman disclosed it had written to US law firm Brown Rudnick, which represented both Cerberus and Pimco, seeking details of all contact it had with Mr Wilson and Mr Hamilton.

Mr McKay said information was also being sought from the Department of Finance in Dublin in relation to the sale.

Meanwhile, loyalist figure Jamie Bryson, who claims to have knowledge about hours of secret recordings which could shed light on the controversial deal, is to be invited to provide information to the committee.

Mr McKay said the committee it would ask Mr Bryson “to provide information within the terms of reference”.

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