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Wilson blasts Nama committee a 'laughing stock'

 Sammy Wilson (left) brands Stormont committee probing the Nama scandal (right) a 'laughing stock'

THE chairman of Stormont's finance committee has defended its inquiry into the sale of Nama's northern debt portfolio after Sammy Wilson labelled it a "laughing stock".

The former DUP finance minister and his successor Simon Hamilton have yet to give evidence to the committee about their role in the £1.25 billion Project Eagle deal.

In a letter sent last week to finance committee chairman Daithi McKay, Mr Wilson says he is reluctant to face the MLAs' inquiry because of concerns that his appearance "could jeopardise the proper enquiry being carried out by the National Crime Agency (NCA)"

While the East Antrim MP acknowledges assurances given by Mr McKay that the NCA is satisfied the Stormont probes terms of reference do not potentially undermine any criminal investigation, Mr Wilson is now requesting "evidence" of this from the committee chairman.

"To date you have provided nothing but your own word on this (the NCA assurances) and I'm sure you will appreciate that I do not attach a great deal of importance to that," he wrote on October 12.

The DUP MP says he has been seeking these assurances for three months and asks for the name of the NCA official Mr McKay has dealt with so he can make direct contact.

Mr Wilson's letter is scathing of the committee's inquiry, which was launched in July after independent TD Mick Wallace's sensational claim that £7m lodged in an offshore bank account was destined for a Northern Ireland politician.

The money was paid by US investment fund Cerberus after it bought Nama's northern debt book and placed in an Isle of Man account by former CBI chairman and Tughans solictors managing partner Ian Coulter.

The former DUP finance minister, who recommended businessman Frank Cushnahan be appointed to Nama's northern advisory council, writes that the Stormont inquiry is "increasingly discredited."

"I once again reiterate that despite the fact that the enquiry has now become a laughing stock, been totally devalued in the way it has been managed ­ including invitations to give evidence from people who have no knowledge of Nama, no knowledge of those who were involved in it and are permitted to come and make totally unsubstantiated allegations ­ I am still happy to attend the committee to put this issue into perspective," the former finance minister writes.

He goes on to accuse the committee of seeking "sensational headlines" and making "political points".

Both Mr Wilson and Mr Hamilton have agreed in principle to be scrutinised by their fellow MLAs yet there is no immediate prospect of either appearing at the committee's inquiry.

Last week Peter Robinson gave two hours of evidence at Stormont in which he strongly refuted allegations made previously by loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson that the DUP leader was set to share the £7m "fixers fee" with four businessmen.

The first minister also dismissed Martin McGuinness's assertion that the Sinn Féin deputy first minister was kept in the dark about the involvement of Stormont ministers in the sale of Project Eagle.

Mr McKay defended the Stormont committee's inquiry and said Mr Wilson was using the NCA investigation as a "red herring".

"Quite clearly the inquiry has been a success as we've unearthed lots of important material that wasn't previously in the public domain, such as details of Peter Robinson's meeting with Pimco and Frank Cushnahan when he was still on the northern advisory committee," the Sinn Féin MLA said.

"The inquiry may make some people feel uncomfortable but the public is entitled to know about the process which led to the sale of Project Eagle."

Mr McKay said the committee had not received any correspondence from Mr Hamilton regarding his appearance at the inquiry since July.

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