The Government-funded body which has brought world-class sports and entertainment events to Northern Ireland has overspent by almost £1m, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The Northern Ireland Events Company (NIEC) has called in external accountants to detail the deficit, said to amount to approximately half of its annual budget.
The overspend may, however, also have to be investigated by Stormont's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which is contacting the NI Audit Office over the issue.
And a more protracted probe could potentially delay the transfer of the company from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, under the Department of Trade and Industry umbrella, next year.
Arts and Culture Minister Edwin Poots is believed to be due to report to the Executive on the controversy tomorrow at its meeting.
His department said, however, the target date for the transfer - April 1 - remains on course.
PAC chairperson John O'Dowd said he would be asking the Audit Office, which provides evidence for PAC hearings, to examine the overspend.
Sinn Fein MLA Mr O'Dowd said: "I have just been informed of this. Certainly an overspend of this magnitude would be of concern. This has not officially been handed over to the PAC yet, but we will be taking a view given the large amount of public money involved."
Mr Poots said his department has been made aware of a deficit in the accounts of the NIEC but the issue "in the first instance" was for the company's board of directors to address.
The company's acting chief executive, Jasper Perry, confirmed an overspend has been identified but said: "(We are) currently working with the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure and its external accountants to establish the circumstances and extent of the overspend."
In a statement, Mr Perry added: "NIEC is hopeful that this will be resolved in due course."
According to a senior Stormont source, the extent of the overspend amounts to "around a million".
And a DCAL source, confirming the figure, said it amounted to about half the annual budget for the company.
Mr Perry added: "In relation to the decision regarding the transfer of functions of NIEC to NITB, this is a matter for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment."
A Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure statement said: "It would not be appropriate to comment further until all of the facts have been established and the Minister has reported to the Executive.
"On the issue of the transfer of functions of the NIEC to NITB under the Review of Public Administration, DCAL is keeping DETI fully informed.
"Both Departments are monitoring developments.
"There are no plans at present to change the proposal to transfer the functions of NIEC to NITB on 1 April 2008."
The company describes itself as a "driving force" and a " one-stop shop" for events organisers, aiming to attract around 10 world-class and major international events to the province each year.
Among its most recent events were the Northern Ireland Snooker Trophy at the Waterfront, the first professional surfing event in the province, the Portrush Open, and the NI International Horse Show.
Since the establishment of the Company in 1997, the Senior British Open Golf Championship has been held at the world famous golf courses of Royal County Down and Royal Portrush on six occasions and along with the Republic, successfully won a round of the World Rally Championship at Stormont last week.
But the track record, which also includes a round of the FIM World Championship Motocross Series for the last four years, came under question five years ago when it emerged the company had underwritten losses on huge concerts at Stormont including Rod Stewart, the Eagles and the late Pavarotti.
And an Audit Office report in June 2002 revealed that the Senior Open Golf Championship at the Royal County Down course brought in gate income of only £1.41 per spectator.
It was also disclosed that the Eagles gig involved a "finger buffet/reception package" costing £135 per person, including drinks and a £45 reserved seat for Stormont ministers and other guests. It became tagged as the "arm and a leg" buffet.