Crime agency advises politicians against Nama inquiry

Investigation into Project Eagle must progress without risk of prejudice, body says

The seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont, in Belfast. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

The seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont, in Belfast. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

 

Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has strongly indicated that it would like Northern Ireland politicians to hold back on an inquiry into the £1.2 billion (€1.39 billion) purchase of Nama’s Northern Ireland property portfolio.

Responding to a Northern Assembly debate on the Nama controversy yesterday, the NCA intimated it had concerns about a criminal inquiry into the matter being prejudiced by political interference.

“Our view is that the public interest is best served by enabling the criminal investigation to progress, and without the risk of prejudice, to its natural conclusion,” an NCA spokeswoman told The Irish Times.

Opposition parties such as the UUP and the SDLP this week pressed in the Assembly for a further Stormont inquiry into the 2014 purchase of Project Eagle, Nama’s Northern Ireland loan book, by US investment giant Cerberus.

Serious risk

The finance committee in the previous assembly carried out an interim, but largely inconclusive, inquiry into the controversial sale of the properties.

The DUP chairwoman of the Assembly’s finance committee Emma Pengelly has warned that the NCA had advised “in the strongest possible terms that the committee should not conduct further investigations into the matter, given the stage of its investigations”.

“Not only did it issue that advice but the agency requested strongly that we did not, indicating that, in its view, there could be a serious risk to the investigation,” she said.

Ms Pengelly said it was “disappointing and surprising” that despite the clear request from the NCA, the UUP had continued to make public comments and calls for the Assembly to examine the issues immediately.

UUP Assembly member Philip Smith, in putting forward a Nama motion on Monday, said MLAs were aware of the NCA criminal investigation and the need “to not say anything today that would stray into the realms of that investigation”.

“At the same time, I believe that we cannot completely ignore Nama and say nothing until the various criminal investigations are completed months or even years down the line,” he said.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said the investigation must be allowed to continue unimpeded but, at the same time, it was unrealistic to expect that Northern politicians would do nothing in the meantime.

The NCA, in a statement to The Irish Times, indicated it would prefer if the finance committee did not pursue its own inquiry until the agency had finished its investigation.

“The decision to suspend the investigation is for the committee to take,” she said.

She also said that, on July 11th, the NCA’s deputy director Roy McComb provided a private briefing to the finance committee about how its investigation was progressing.