Stormont committee to resurrect Nama probe despite NCA concern

Stormont's finance committee is set to continue a probe into the Project Eagle sale

STORMONT'S finance committee is expected to press on with its probe into the Project Eagle scandal despite National Crime Agency (NCA) warnings about jeopardising criminal investigations.

The NCA has written to the committee telling members to proceed cautiously, if at all, when examining allegations of corruption around Nama’s sale of its northern loan portfolio in 2014.

They fear Stormont’s probe could undermine the criminal inquiry – a concern already voiced by the committee’s DUP chair Emma Little-Pengelly.

The NCA was called in to investigate the £1.24bn Project Eagle sale last year after details emerged of £7 million being held in an Isle of Man bank account.

Independent TD Mick Wallace claimed in the Dail that the money was destined for a politician or party from Northern Ireland.

The Stormont finance committee’s predecessor launched an inquiry into the controversial deal last year, which saw MLAs quiz several people about the Project Eagle sale, including then First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

The committee produced a progress report earlier this year, before Stormont elections, but its successor's probe has since stalled.

The NCA recently wrote to the finance committee providing an update on its investigation and outlining concerns that elements of the MLAs' inquiry could prejudice criminal proceedings.

It is understood that while these concerns were shared by DUP committee members, representatives from Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and TUV are content that they can still proceed.

The Irish News understands that a majority of committee members support resurrecting the probe, aspects of which will mirror a similar inquiry in the Republic.

The Dublin government announced plans for its own investigation last week after the Comptroller and Audit General found that Project Eagle was undervalued by up to £190,000 when sold to US firm Cerberus.

Full Nama coverage

The public spending watchdog also highlighted shortcomings by Nama in addressing potential conflicts of interest around Frank Cushnahan, a former advisor to the 'bad bank'.

The NCA has confirmed to The Irish News that it is liaising with "statutory and law enforcement agencies in the UK, Isle of Man, Irish Republic and the United States" as part of the Project Eagle investigation.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has said the Dublin government's inquiry needs to examine all Nama's activities rather than just Project Eagle.

"There is a need to get to the truth of the operation of Nama in the north and the scale of the losses passed onto taxpayers," he said.

"However we need to be assured that the malpractice, conflicts of interest and insider dealing at the heart of the northern allegations is not ongoing in other sales."

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