Fresh revelations prompt calls for cross-border Nama probe

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has called for a Dáil commission of inquiry. Picture by Ann McManus
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has called for a Dáil commission of inquiry. Picture by Ann McManus Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has called for a Dáil commission of inquiry. Picture by Ann McManus

THERE have been widespread calls for a cross-border criminal probe into the scandal surrounding the sale of Nama's northern loan portfolio.

The latest revelations relating to the region's biggest-ever property deal allegedly show one-time Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan receiving tens of thousands of pounds from a Co Down developer.

Mr Cushnahan is one of two people arrested by the National Crime Agency as part of its investigation into US vulture fund Cerberus's £1.25 billion purchase of Project Eagle. The NCA also arrested former Ulster Bank executive Ronnie Hanna. Both men were released on bail pending further inquiries.

In the BBC spotlight programme broadcast on Tuesday night, secret recordings from 2013 appeared to show Mr Cushnahan accepting a bag stuffed with £40,000 in cash from property developer John Miskelly.

Co Down-based Mr Miskelly's properties, including Ten Square hotel in Belfast, had been taken over by Nama following the 2007 crash.

He appears to have believed that Mr Cushnahan would help him regain control of his portfolio after it was bought from the bad bank.

During the secret recordings Mr Cushnahan talks about his relationship with DUP MP and the then Stormont finance minister Sammy Wilson, who he claimed was "working behind the scenes". Mr Wilson recommended his friend Mr Cushnahan to Nama ahead of the former banker's 2010 appointment to the bad bank's Northern Ireland advisory committee.

Giving evidence to Stormont's finance committee last year, the then First Minister Peter Robinson described Mr Cushnahan as a "pillar of the establishment".

The recordings broadcast by Spotlight also make reference to meetings between Mr Miskelly and the former DUP leader, as well as payments to Mr Robinson's son Gareth.

The DUP was yesterday refusing to comment on the revelations, citing the continuing NCA probe.

Elsewhere, however, there were calls for further probes into the scandal, including a potential investigation that would straddle the border.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams called for a commission of investigation in the Republic to examine the circumstances around Nama's disposal of Project Eagle.

He also called for the Republic's public spending watchdog to publish its report into the sale of the northern loan portfolio.

The report was sent to the Republic's Minister of Finance Michael Noonan on August 9. He has up to three months to present the findings to the Dáil.

Mr Adams said he had previously made allegations similar to those aired by Spotlight.

Video courtesy of BBC Spotlight

This programme is available on the BBC iPlayer ?

"To date, the Fine Gael led government and Fianna Fáil have opposed the establishment of a commission of investigation into Nama, while the minister for finance is still sitting on a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General into the disposal of the Nama loan book in the north," he said.

"These parties are lurching from one financial scandal to the next and their consistent response is to stall and avoid any investigation."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt is keen that the matter be debated in the assembly when MLAs return on Monday.

He said the revelations damaged "Northern Ireland's standing on the international stage".

"The executive say Northern Ireland is open for business – sadly, we are developing an international reputation as the place to do funny business and everyone suffers," he said.

"It is essential that the assembly takes some control of this situation."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called for a cross-border investigation into the growing allegations surrounding Project Eagle.

"The DUP have some serious work to do in order to the remove the perception that the programme presented – that requires urgent answers from the former First Minister Peter Robinson and Sammy Wilson," he said.

"It equally requires immediate clarity regarding their roles from current First Minister Arlene Foster. The ‘hush hush’ must now end."

Full Nama coverageOpens in new window ]

Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long also called for a north-south probe.

"I would urge the PSNI, National Crime Agency and Gardai to co-operate on fully investigating this issue as a matter of urgency," she said.

"Allegations in the programme of political interference and corruption cannot be allowed to continue to fester, nor can the border be allowed to inhibit full investigation across both jurisdictions."

People Before Profit's Eamon McCann said the call for a cross-border probe was "irrefutable".

"In the absence of a proper sworn enquiry, the finance committee at Stormont should meet in joint session with the public accounts committee at Leinster House to determine a way forward," he said.

In Dublin, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called for a cross-party meeting on Project Eagle.

"I would suggest that the taoiseach would ask and convene in the next while a meeting of all party leaders to discuss the best way forward to deal with the Project Eagle situation because there are very significant legal issues and we just need to do it in an informed, organised way as opposed to simple motions," he said.

However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that while there was a criminal investigation north of the border he would consider the request.

ANALYSIS: Political Correspondent John Manley