Saturday 24 March 2018

Crime probe update for Stormont watchdog

Stormont finance minister Mairtin O Muilleoir
Stormont finance minister Mairtin O Muilleoir

Simon Rowe

Stormont's finance watchdog will be briefed by a team from the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) tomorrow about its ongoing investigation into the controversial sale of Nama's Project Eagle loan book.

The specially convened meeting at Parliament Buildings was requested by the Finance Committee before it takes its two-month summer recess until September.

Two high-profile businessmen have already been arrested by fraud squad chiefs in ­connection with the €1.6bn loan book sale by Nama to US investment fund Cerberus - the biggest ever property deal in Northern Ireland. More arrests are expected to follow in the coming weeks.

The investigation by the NCA, the UK's lead policing body, was sparked by the discovery of a £7m offshore transfer to an Isle of Man bank.

The deal has been the subject of parliamentary probes on both sides of the border, as well as an investigation by US authorities.

As well as getting an update on the NCA's investigation, committee chairwoman DUP MLA Emma Pengelly stressed that the meeting is to ensure its own examination of the sale did not prejudice the long-running fraud investigation.

In recent days, the North's Department of ­Finance has provided the investigating committee with new documents discovered in a fresh trawl of government files ordered by Minister Mairtin O'Muilleoir.

The new Department of Finance papers shared with the committee include a document which reveals that a former senior Anglo Irish Bank ­official had been nominated by former DUP ­Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, to the Northern Ireland committee advising Nama.

The name of Neil Adair, as a nominee of then finance minister Sammy Wilson, has emerged in files newly disclosed and unredacted to the Stormont committee.

Adair's name was previously redacted from papers provided to the committee.

The Irish Government subsequently selected another of Mr Wilson's nominees, Frank ­Cushnahan, in 2010.

A committee spokeswoman said it has "no plans to further consider the papers made available by the Department until after its NCA meeting."

The committee's next scheduled meeting is on September 14.

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