Thursday 23 February 2017

'Secret recordings' link to Project Eagle Nama controversy

Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Jamie Bryson claims to have ‘documentation and evidence’
Jamie Bryson claims to have ‘documentation and evidence’

A parliamentary inquiry into the sale of Nama's Northern loans portfolio will consider hearing from a witness who claims to have information about hours of secret recordings which could shed light on the controversial deal.

The Northern Ireland Assembly's committee on finance and personnel will today consider whether or not it should take evidence from loyalist figure Jamie Bryson.

Mr Bryson wrote to the committee saying he could provide "documentation and evidence" in relation to the sale of the loan portfolio, codenamed Project Eagle, to US vulture fund Cerberus for €1.6bn last year.

Allegations of political kickbacks in connection with the deal are being investigated by the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA).

Mr Bryson told the Irish Independent he had infor- mation in relation to more than 30 hours of phone calls into and out of a business premises in Belfast.

The business in question recorded calls as a matter of course, unbeknown to the people involved in the conversations, it is claimed.

Mr Bryson alleged the calls involved a prominent businessman and a number of senior politicians. He said the tapes were currently in the possession of a Belfast law firm.

The finance committee is to consider his request to give evidence when it meets this morning.

It is understood Mr Bryson is being taken seriously by the committee, but that due to legal considerations it may opt to take a written submission from him rather than hearing oral evidence.

The committee is also due to receive legal advice today on whether it has the power to compel a number of witnesses to appear before it.

Nama has declined a request to attend, stating that it is only accountable to committees of the Oireachtas.

David Sterling, a senior civil servant at the North's Department of Finance, has also been blocked from appearing by his minister, Arlene Foster, who expressed concern that the police inquiry could be prejudiced.

In the absence of Nama agreeing to appear, the committee has drafted a list of 20 questions for the agency about the deal and will seek answers to these in writing.

Meanwhile, the committee is set to explore joining forces with the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to progress its inquiry.

Discussions have taken place between the chairman of the northern committee, Sinn Féin MLA Daithi McKay, and the chairman of the PAC, Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness.

It is not anticipated there would be joint hearings involving members of both committees. Instead, it is thought more likely that any collaboration would involve sharing of information.

The PAC is planning to recall Nama officials next month, while the North's finance committee plans to meet the NCA and the Law Society of Northern Ireland on August 27.

Officials from Cerberus are due before that committee on September 23.

Invitations have also been extended to Pimco, an investment firm which had been in the running to buy the loans portfolio, and former Northern Ireland finance ministers Sammy Wilson and Simon Hamilton.

The NCA probe was prompted by claims made in the Dail by Independent TD Mick Wallace, who alleged that Stg£7m (€9.9m) in an Isle of Man account had been earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or party.

Irish Independent

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