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Dail committee says it's 'too risky' to interview businessman linked to Project Eagle loan deal

By Joanne Fleming

Published 17/10/2016

Denials: Frank Cushnahan
Denials: Frank Cushnahan

The former Northern Ireland adviser to the Republic's 'bad bank' has not been invited to appear before hearings in Dublin about the Project Eagle property deal.

Belfast businessman Frank Cushnahan has been at the centre of the controversy linked to Northern Ireland's biggest ever property deal.

The Dail's public accounts committee (PAC) wants Ronnie Hanna, Nama's former head of asset recovery, to testify at its Project Eagle loan sale hearings.

And Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is due to appear at the PAC on Tuesday of next week.

But the committee has decided not to ask Cushnahan, a former member of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee.

The potential jeopardy of any future legal proceedings has been cited as the reason.

Both men were arrested by the National Crime Agency (NCA) last May as part of a police investigation into the £1.24bn sale of Nama's Northern Ireland asset portfolio to American company Cerberus in 2014.

Mr Cushnahan and Mr Hanna, both former bankers, were released without charge and deny any wrongdoing.

Lynne Owens, the NCA's director-general, recently informed the Policing Board that seven people had been interviewed under caution.

One has been ruled out of the agency's inquiries.

Mr Cushnahan is alleged to have been the intended recipient of millions of pounds in 'fixer fees' arising from the purchase of Project Eagle.

Last month BBC's Spotlight programme broadcast a covert recording of Mr Cushnahan allegedly receiving £40,000 in cash from John Miskelly, a Co Down developer, in August 2012.

Mr Cushnahan suggested to Mr Miskelly that Mr Hanna would pass on confidential Nama information to him.

Mr Hanna has denied doing so and Mr Cushnahan has also denied any wrongdoing.

PAC chairman Sean Fleming said it was too risky to invite Mr Cushnahan to give evidence to the committee, the Sunday Times reports.

"An invitation to him could jeopardise any potential prosecution or defence," said Mr Fleming. "It's a risk I won't take. The committee agrees."

In relation to Mr Hanna's appearance, Mr Fleming said: "Ronnie Hanna is believed to be assisting the authorities. We have taken legal advice about inviting him. We will be careful in how we conduct that meeting. We know there is a risk but we think it is manageable."

PAC members have also decided not to invite Mick Wallace, the TD who revealed in the Dail that £7m linked to Project Eagle had been discovered in an Isle of Man bank account.

Mr Fleming said some PAC members objected to inviting Mr Wallace because his information was "second-hand".

Mr Wallace refused to give evidence to the PAC last year, claiming it was "ineffective".

When the Irish government announced last month that it intended setting up a statutory investigation into Project Eagle, Mr Wallace said he was prepared, subject to conditions, to give evidence.

The committee has also agreed to invite Pimco, the initial preferred bidder in the Project Eagle sale, and Cerberus.

Last year Cerberus declined an invitation from Stormont's finance committee to give evidence about Project Eagle.

The company cited continuing criminal investigations and civil litigation as the reason.

Belfast Telegraph

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