Nama analysis: It's time this trial by media became a proper probe

Questions have again been raised about Frank Cushnahan's conduct

BECAUSE the Nama trail went cold for a while there was an assumption in some quarters that the scandal had gone away. But the revelations in the latest Spotlight programme mean this was wishful thinking as they have dramatically reignited the public's interest and put the dealings around the £1 billion-plus sale of Project Eagle back on the news agenda.

The startling secret recordings made by developer John Miskelly once again raise questions about Frank Cushnahan's conduct and his shadowy role in US vulture fund Cerberus's purchase of Nama's northern portfolio, as well as a subsequent series of deals which saw heavily-indebted developers get their properties back.

Cushnahan, who has already been arrested and questioned by the National Crime Agency (NCA), is alleged to have taken a bag stuffed with £40,000 cash from Mr Miskelly and an additional €10,000 at a later date. What exactly this payment was for isn't clear, but the clandestine nature of the transaction suggests it wasn't a donation for Children in Need.

The secret tapes also draw leading DUP figures Peter Robinson and Sammy Wilson back into the Nama fray. Mr Cushnahan, who both the former first minister and East Antrim MP have previously spoke of in glowing terms, makes claims to Mr Miskelly about Mr Robinson and Mr Wilson attempting to influence the asking price for the northern loan portfolio.

This in itself isn't wrong, however, the chairman of the Dáil's finance committee John McGuinness believes Cushnahan "used the political system to distort the sale of Project Eagle".

Video courtesy of BBC Spotlight

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How much the DUP leader and Mr Wilson facilitated this is the question at the heart of the scandal. Where they, as both have maintained, simply acting in the interests of Northern Ireland's economy or was there a more self-serving motivation for their actions? The integrity of the DUP rests on the answer to this question.

The programme also raises questions about Gareth Robinson, the then first minister's son, whom Mr Miskelly says received a payment of £5,000. A lobbyist-cum-PR man who had free access to Parliament Buildings, the former Castlereagh's councillor's role in this affair is also unclear but his direct connections at the heart of the Stormont merits further probing of his business dealings.

Meanwhile, the political reaction to Tuesday's night's programme has been mooted when compared to the hullabaloo around the recent Jamie Bryson coaching controversy, which is of secondary importance to the Project Eagle investigation. With a degree of justification, the politicians say they are hamstrung by the NCA investigation, which has now been ongoing for 14 months. Given what the BBC has so far exposed, at this stage we might expect something more significant from the NCA.

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