Investigating allegations of corruption and financial irregularities around Northern Ireland’s biggest ever property sale is one of the top priorities for the National Crime Agency (NCA), its director general has said.
Lynne Owens was in Belfast to brief members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board oversight body on the progress of Operation Pumpless, which is looking into the £1.2 billion deal.
She said: “The investigation is one of our highest priority operations in our serious and organised crime grid.”
So far seven people have been interviewed under criminal caution by NCA officers examining the purchase of the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) northern loan book.
Six people remain under criminal investigation and are deemed suspects, Ms Owens said.
In May, two people were arrested and interviewed under caution but were subsequently released on bail.
“No inference should be drawn on the decision to release these people on bail,” added Ms Owens.
Some 40 witnesses have also been interviewed; eight properties searched and a number of court orders have been obtained to gather material from members of the public and private institutions.
Ms Owens said: “At this stage we cannot rule out further arrests, further searches, further interviews or further court orders.”
She also said they had not and would not be naming any of those arrested or interviewed.
The NCA took over the Nama inquiry from the PSNI last July and are working with other law enforcement agencies in Ireland, 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.
Ms Owens said: “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 Assembly’s finance scrutiny committee on three separate occasions.
The deal two years ago between Nama and US investment giant Cerberus, involving the £1.2 billion sale of a Northern Ireland property loan portfolio, has been dogged by controversy after £7 million linked to it was found in an Isle of Man bank account.
Critics have claimed the arrangement included multimillion-pound fixer fees.
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, a multibillion-pound fund.
All parties involved in the 2014 transaction have denied wrongdoing.
Ms Owens said: “This is one of our highest priority operations. We are fully committed to this important inquiry which is overseen by one of my deputy directors.
“We are trying to be as open and straightforward as we can be within the boundaries of an investigation that must be conducted thoroughly, fairly and impartially in the search for the truth.”
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.