Basil McCrea welcomes NI21 fraud probe and insists no party member is involved
NI21 leader Basil McCrea has claimed that neither his party nor any of its members are under criminal investigation after police launched a probe into alleged financial fraud.
His former deputy, John McCallister, was quizzed by police this week and was reported to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) over allegations relating to the misuse of public funds during his time in the party.
Mr McCallister has insisted he has done nothing wrong and has vowed to clear his name.
A 41-year-old Belfast-based businessman was also reported to the PPS by police as part of the investigation, which is related to payments from public funds. It is understood he undertook some work for NI21.
The probe is believed to have stemmed from a separate investigation into other matters. Throughout that probe, a number of questions were raised about financial dealings within the party during Mr McCallister's time there.
Mr McCrea said: "The party welcomes these developments and wishes to make clear that neither the party nor any of its members are under criminal investigation.
"As these investigations are ongoing, it is not appropriate to comment further."
Mr McCallister, who left the party following a public falling-out with his leader and former friend, was questioned by officers on Wednesday and a number of items, including a computer, were taken from his home.
The 43-year-old said he had been happy to deal with the police queries "immediately and voluntarily".
He said: "I wish to stress I have nothing to hide and deny there was any wrongdoing on my part.
"I look forward to police concluding their investigations and this matter being quickly resolved."
The PSNI said officers were investigating allegations of misuse of public funds. PSNI Chief Superintendent Peter Farrar said: "The allegations relate to potential fraud and theft by a small number of individuals relating to money available under the Financial Assistance to Political Parties Fund."
Assembly authorities have been advised of the probe.
News of the police investigation is the latest drama to hit NI21, which was co-founded in 2013 by Mr McCrea and Mr McCallister when they broke away from the Ulster Unionist Party.
The party imploded on the eve of elections after claims of inappropriate sexual activity surfaced against Mr McCrea. Mr McCrea has strenuously denied all allegations against him.
Mr McCallister, who was deputy leader at the time, initiated an investigation by independent counselling group Carecall after hearing reports about Mr McCrea.
He then left the party following a row with Mr McCrea over the handling of the allegations.
Since then Mr McCallister has been sitting in the Assembly as an independent unionist for South Down. Mr McCallister, a farmer, only entered politics in 2007 when he was elected to the Assembly as a member of the UUP.
NI21 was founded in 2013 by ex-Ulster Unionist Party MLAs Basil McCrea and John McCallister. The party imploded after allegations of inappropriate sexual activity were made against Mr McCrea. Tina McKenzie, the European Parliamentary candidate, resigned from the party executive half-an-hour before voting ended on local government election day in 2014. Mr McCallister also walked away from the party following a public falling-out with Mr McCrea.