Police have launched a criminal investigation into the biggest property deal ever seen on the island of Ireland.
Six days after the NAMA scandal broke, and under intense scrutiny as to why no police action has followed the claims of massive corruption, the PSNI said that it would attempt to establish if there has been criminality involved.
In a statement on Wednesday night, the PSNI said that “a criminal inquiry will be launched in relation to concerns raised over the sale of NAMA’s Northern Ireland property portfolio and the recent claims made in the Irish parliament by independent TD Mick Wallace”.
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said: “We believe that there is sufficient concern in relation to potential criminal activity, surrounding this property deal, to instigate an investigation.” He said the PSNI is “engaging with a number of other national and international law enforcement partners to consider how best to take forward this investigation”.
Mr Wallace alleged that £7 million was moved from a Belfast law firm to an offshore bank account last year as part of the £1.3 billion deal to sell NAMA to Cerberus. He claimed that the money was earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician. Since then the BBC has said that the cash was for “fixers and influencers” who helped secure the deal.
Further lurid allegations by another individual have been made elsewhere but the News Letter has been unable to establish the veracity of them and for legal reasons cannot report the claims.
The DUP has said that the allegations will be the subject of legal action, although the individual concerned has claimed that there has been no legal action against him.
Although it has been rival unionists such as Mike Nesbitt and Jim Allister who have been most vocal in calling for a police investigation into the allegations, the DUP on Wednesday night welcomed the criminal probe.
In a statement, a party spokesman said: “This is a welcome announcement and the appropriate step to deal with the serious allegations which have been made.
“Indeed, the First Minister called for such action by the authorities last week noting that accusations of criminal behaviour tarnish politics and should be fully investigated.
“We trust everyone concerned will cooperate fully with the PSNI team.”
But, in evidence of Stormont Castle strains, Martin McGuinness suggested that even a PSNI investigation may not be sufficient to uncover all that has gone on.
The Deputy First Minister said: “Given the allegations around the sale of the NAMA portfolio and the serious implications if any of these are substantiated there are clearly grounds for a thorough police investigation.
“However, given the enormity of the sums of money involved in these transactions, a more extensive judicial inquiry may be necessary to establish the facts.”
The PSNI investigation follows the setting up of an inquiry by Stormont’s finance committee on Tuesday.
On Thursday the Dail’s public accounts committee will hear evidence from senior NAMA officials about the sale.
The committee’s chairman, Fianna Fail’s John McGuinness, said: “Committee members will be seeking assurances from NAMA officials that the return to the taxpayer was maximised in the sale of these assets.
“We will explore the chain of events leading to the withdrawal of PIMCO in March 2014, one of only three bidders that had made the shortlist.
“With just Cerberus and another bidder, the committee will want to get an understanding of how the process worked and whether this was the optimum business approach to achieving the best possible sale price.”
Focus on link to Isle of Man
It is not yet clear whether the authorities in the Isle of Man will investigate the allegation that £7 million from the NAMA-Cerberus deal was diverted to an Isle of Man account.
Mick Wallace’s, above, Dail allegation last week was given credibility when Belfast solicitors Tughans confirmed that its former managing partner, Ian Coulter, moved the money to the Isle of Man.
A spokesman for the Financial Supervision Commission, the Isle of Man’s financial regulator, told the News Letter that it was aware of the allegations.
Although the commission did not state that it was investigating the money transfer, a spokesman said: “The commission is aware of the allegations which have been made and will be considering the matter if and when further information becomes available.”