Belfast Telegraph

Flag protester Jamie Bryson may be called to give evidence at Stormont Nama probe

By Shane Phelan

A Stormont inquiry into the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loans portfolio is to consider hearing evidence from loyalist flags protester Jamie Bryson.

He claims to have information about hours of secret recordings which could shed light on the controversial deal.

The Assembly's committee on finance and personnel will consider today whether or not it should take evidence from the loyalist figure.

Bryson wrote to the committee, stating he could provide "documentation and evidence" in relation to the sale of the loan portfolio, codenamed Project Eagle, to US vulture fund Cerberus for €1.6bn last year.

Allegations of political kickbacks in connection with the deal are being investigated by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Bryson said he had information in relation to more than 30 hours of phone calls into and out of a business premises in Belfast.

The business in question recorded calls as a matter of course, unbeknown to the people involved in the conversations, it is claimed.

Bryson alleged that the calls involved a prominent businessman and a number of senior politicians.

He said the tapes were currently in the possession of a Belfast law firm.

The finance committee is to consider his request to give evidence when it meets this morning.

It is understood Bryson is being taken seriously by the committee, but that because of legal considerations it may opt to take a written submission from him rather than hearing oral evidence.

The committee is also due to receive legal advice today on whether or not it has the power to compel a number of witnesses to appear before it.

Nama has declined a request to attend, stating it is only accountable to committees of the Oireachtas in Dublin. David Sterling, a senior civil servant at the Department of Finance, has also been blocked from appearing by his minister, Arlene Foster, who expressed concern that the police inquiry could be prejudiced.

In the absence of Nama agreeing to appear, the committee has drafted a list of 20 questions for the agency about the deal and will seek answers to these in writing.

Meanwhile, the committee is also set to explore joining forces with the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to progress its inquiry.

Discussions have taken place between Assembly committee chairman, Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay, and the chairman of the Irish Public Accounts Committee, Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness.

It is not anticipated there would be joint hearings involving members of both committees. Instead it is thought more likely that any collaboration would involve the sharing of information.

The Republic's PAC is planning to recall Nama officials next month, while the Assembly's finance committee plans to meet the NCA and the Law Society of Northern Ireland on August 27.

Officials from Cerberus are due before that committee on September 23.

Invitations have also been extended to Pimco, an investment firm which had been in the running to purchase the loans portfolio, and former finance ministers Sammy Wilson and Simon Hamilton.

The NCA probe was prompted by claims made in the Dail by Independent TD Mick Wallace, who alleged £7m in an Isle of Man account had been earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or party.

Belfast Telegraph


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