Saturday 1 October 2016

Nama inquiry chief says 'efforts made to stymie loans probe'

Published 21/08/2015 | 02:30

Sinn Féin’s Daithí McKay
Sinn Féin’s Daithí McKay

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

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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 Féin MLA Daithí McKay, said the latest stumbling block arose from a letter issued by the head of the North's civil service, Dr Malcolm McKibben.

The letter is understood 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.

At a meeting of the inquiry, 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 affected.

However, Mr McKay insisted that the National Crime Agency (NCA) 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," he said.

The committee's probe was launched after Independent TD Mick Wallace alleged that £7m (€9.8m) 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.

Contacts

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

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

The agreement would have Nama debtors receiving favourable treatment 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.

Meanwhile, loyalist figure Jamie Bryson, who claims to have knowledge about more than 30 hours of secret rec- ordings that could shed light on the deal, is to be invited to provide information to the committee.

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

Irish Independent

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