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Stormont inquiries into Nama 'may harm NCA's criminal investigation'

By Noel McAdam

Published 27/09/2016

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned that Stormont's finance committee could hamper its investigation into the Nama allegations, the Assembly has heard.

Finance Committee chair Emma Little Pengelly told MLAs the NCA advised the committee against proceeding its inquiry "given the stage of their investigations".

Attacking Ulster Unionists for bringing the issue back for further Assembly debate yesterday, the south Belfast MLA said: "To debate, inquire and cause the investigation harm would be disgraceful and the exact opposite of what we are elected to do.

"We have strong advice that further inquiries by the committee or the Assembly would, in fact, potentially damage or harm the investigation by the National Crime Agency."

But former Junior Minister Little Pengelly came under attack from TUV leader Jim Allister who said she should have declared an interest.

He claimed her husband Richard Pengelly "was at the heart of the department which made some dodgy recommendations" in relation to Nama, and also that she herself was a special adviser to then First Minister Peter Robinson at the time of the deal.

Mr Allister also referred to a statement made by Mr Robinson last year, in which he described former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan as a "pillar of the establishment". Mr Allister added: "There are two distinct aspects to this. There is the potential criminality: were there rucksacks of cash or hoards of money in secret accounts in the Isle of Man? Who were they for and was there any corruption involved? (Secondly) there is also the question of whether there was political influence."

The controversy over the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland property loans book took centre-stage at the Assembly yesterday, with an Ulster Unionist motion urging Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness to act to boost public confidence in the Assembly and Executive over the damaging Nama controversy.

The UUP's Philip Smith asked: "Has the Government taken effective and appropriate actions to improve public confidence in the wake of revelation after revelation on Nama? I think not, and I believe the Northern Ireland public want reassurance that there will be no repeat of those scandals." The SDLP's Claire Hanna argued that any criminal investigations must be allowed to proceed unhindered, but it was unrealistic to expect Stormont to do nothing in the meantime.

Sinn Fein Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir, who met the NCA in Lisburn last Thursday, stated: "There has been some suggestion that political influence might stop the NCA in its tracks. I do not believe that that is the case."

A Sinn Fein amendment urging the First and Deputy First Ministers to co-operate with all investigations and emphasise the support of the Executive "for all efforts to uncover the truth" around the sale of the Project Eagle property portfolio was agreed by 59 votes to 35.

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