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Stormont finance watchdog to hear latest findings of Nama loans probe

By Simon Rowe

Published 11/07/2016

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

Stormont's finance watchdog will be briefed by a team from the National Crime Agency (NCA) today 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 its two-month summer recess until September.

Two high-profile businessmen have been arrested by fraud squad chiefs in ­connection with the €1.6bn (£1.2bn) loan book sale by Nama to US investment fund Cerberus - the biggest ever property deal in Northern Ireland. More arrests are expected in the coming weeks.

The probe 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 - who used to work as a special advisor to former first minister Peter Robinson - 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 Department of ­Finance has provided the investigating committee with new documents discovered in a fresh trawl of government files ordered by Sinn Fein 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 emerged in newly disclosed and unredacted files given to the Stormont committee.Adair's name was previously blacked out on papers provided.

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

Mr Cushnahan was one of the two men arrested in Co Down in June by the NCA.

The other was former senior Nama executive, Ronnie Hanna.

The former Ulster Bank senior executive was head of asset recovery at Nama, but left in late 2014. The men, who were named under parliamentary privilege in the Dail, were later released without charge. They deny any wrongdoing.

A Finance 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.

Project Eagle involved 850 properties across Ireland and the UK, based on loans made to borrowers in Northern Ireland. While Nama bought the loans for €2bn, they were sold to vulture fund Cerberus for €1.6bn.

At the end of last month, a motion in the Dail calling for a Commission of Investigation to be set up to investigate the sale was passed - but will not be able to start its work until criminal investigations have ended.

During the debate, Independent TD Mick Wallace said he is going to set up a website with help from some of those involved in leaking information from CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

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