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McCallister denies wrongdoing as McCrea welcomes probe

Independent unionist John McCallister

Former NI21 and Ulster Unionist deputy leader John McCallister has insisted he has done nothing wrong after police launched an investigation into the misuse of assembly funds.

The South Down independent unionist, who last year split from the fledgling centreground unionist party he helped found, was interviewed by police on Thursday.

His fellow NI21 founding member and its one remaining MLA Basil McCrea yesterday welcomed the police investigation, saying his party had "been the victim of criminal activity".

"The party welcomes these developments and wished to make clear that neither the party nor any of its members are under criminal investigation," the Lagan Valley said.

The investigation relates to "potential fraud and theft" by a "small number of individuals" relating to funds available under the Stormont's Financial Assistance to Political Parties. A number of items were also seized by police.

A second 41-year-old man was also interviewed and both he and Mr McCallister (43) have been reported to the Public Prosecution Service.

The South Down MLA vehemently denied the allegations.

"Yesterday morning I was contacted by the police, who indicated that, in the course of ongoing investigations about other matters, statements had been taken," he said.

"These had raised some financial aspects from my difficult time in NI21. They were seeking to clarify my position and I was happy to deal with their queries immediately and voluntarily.

"I wish to stress I have nothing to hide and deny there was any wrongdoing on my part. I look forward to the police concluding their investigations and this matter being quickly resolved."

A former dairy farmer from Rathfriland in Co Down, Mr McCallister was elected to the assembly as an Ulster Unionist in 2007. He resigned from the party in 2013 over its plans for an electoral pact with the DUP.

He launched NI21 alongside Mr McCrea two years ago but the party imploded ahead of last year's European and local government elections.

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