Monday 26 September 2016

Project Eagle inquiry runs into quicksand

Published 28/08/2015 | 00:00

Stormont's finance Minister Arlene Foster stopped a senior civil servant from reappearing over fears his evidence could impact on an investigation by the UK's National Crime Agency
Stormont's finance Minister Arlene Foster stopped a senior civil servant from reappearing over fears his evidence could impact on an investigation by the UK's National Crime Agency

The parliamentary inquiry into the sale of Nama's northern loan portfolio is going nowhere fast, if its hearings to date are anything to go by.

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A few eyebrows were raised when the portfolio, involving 900 loans which at one point were worth €5.7bn, sold for €1.6bn in April last year.

But the sale of the Project Eagle loans became the ultimate hot potato when details emerged in recent weeks of millions held in an offshore account, allegedly earmarked for political kickbacks.

The witnesses who have to date appeared before the Northern Assembly committee investigating the claims have not shed much light on matters.

One of them, a senior civil servant, has been stopped from reappearing by the North's finance minister Arlene Foster over fears his evidence could impact on an investigation by the UK's National Crime Agency.

Yesterday, the Law Society of Northern Ireland revealed it received a call from a senior NCA officer just minutes before a hearing, warning it to be careful about its evidence.

The frustration of members of the committee threatened to boil over as the society's chairperson declined to answer relatively routine questions.

The intervention of the NCA was puzzling to the committee, given its officers had previously raised no concerns about the inquiry's terms of reference.

Other notable individuals, including former finance ministers Sammy Wilson and Simon Hamilton, have yet to fully commit to appearing, having sought and received assurances that questions would not stray beyond those terms of reference.

Irish Independent

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