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Six people at centre of NCA investigation into Nama's northern loan sale

NCA director general Lynne Owens

SIX people are under criminal investigation in relation to the sale of Nama's northern loan book, the head of the National Crime Agency has said.

More than 40 witnesses have been interviewed by the agency in its probe into potential bribery, corruption and fraud in the £1.24 bn sale of Project Eagle.

The NCA launched its investigation more than 14 months ago after it emerged that £7.2m paid by US vulture fund Cerberus in fees had been lodged in an Isle of Man bank account.

According to independent TD Mick Wallace, the money was destined for a Northern Ireland politician.

Briefing the Policing Board yesterday on how the investigation was progressing, NCA director general Lynne Owens confirmed that two people had been arrested in May and interviewed under caution.

The Irish News understands the two individuals referred to are former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan and Ronnie Hanna, a one-time senior executive at Ulster Bank and head of asset recovery at the so-called bad bank. Both have since been released from police bail.

"No inference should be drawn on the decision to release these people on bail," said Ms Owens.

She said seven people had been interviewed under caution as part of 'Operation Pumpless', six of who remained the subject of the agency's criminal probe. However, the NCA director general said she would not be naming any of those arrested or interviewed.

She also revealed that her officers have searched eight properties and seized documents from government departments and a number of private firms.

Ms Owens told the Policing Board that the agency was working with law enforcement and regulatory agencies in the Republic, the Isle of Man and USA.

Investigators are focussed on four main areas – the Nama loan book purchase and dispersal of fees offshore; the relationships of those involved in the huge sale including allegations of corruption; the broader sale process including previous purchase attempts and any offences suspected of having been committed under UK law.

"The investigation is one of our highest priority operations in our serious and organised crime grid," Ms Owens said, adding that further arrests, searches, interviews or court orders could not be ruled out.

"It is a complex investigation requiring us to seize and examine large volumes of material and the NCA continues to ensure that we follow all reasonable lines of enquiry and we are determined it will be a thorough, fair and impartial investigation."

The agency recently provided a confidential briefing to Stormont's Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir and has discussed the probe with MLAs from the Stormont's finance committee on three separate occasions.

Nama was established in Ireland at the height of the financial crisis to take property-linked loans off the books of bailed-out banks. It sold 800 property loans to Cerberus.

All parties involved in the 2014 transaction have denied wrongdoing.

None of the Policing Board members posed any questions in public to the NCA director general about the Nama investigation but it is understood they had met in private earlier.

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