Irish Republican News · September 17, 2016
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Inquiry announced into northern corruption scandal
Inquiry announced into northern corruption scandal

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The 26 County Taoiseach Enda Kenny has agreed that an inquiry should go ahead into evidence of corrupt practices in the sale of distressed property assets in the North of Ireland, but is refusing a broader inquiry into the actions of NAMA, the bank set up to handle such sales.

Two separate inquiries are now being planned in Dublin after the state’s auditors found “irregularities” and “shortcomings” in the sale of NAMA’s Six County loan book, known as ‘Project Eagle’.

The Comptroller and Auditor General said the sale of the portfolio for 1.6 billion euro to American investment fund Cerberus in 2014, led to probable losses of more than 200 million euro to the State. A ‘success fee’ of fifteen million pounds for the cut-price deal is a focus of corruption investigations by state agencies on both sides of the Atlantic.

Closely linked to the transaction are a number of senior DUP figures including former First Minister Peter Robinson, Sinn Fein’s current deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the 26 County Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Former US Vice President Dan Quayle, who is currently chairman of the successful buyer Cerberus, is also being investigated for having allegedly abused his office in his dealings with Irish politicians.

The deal is being investigated by Britain’s National Crime Agency and in the US under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

It has now been agreed that a Commission of Investigation should be set up in Dublin on a statutory basis, while a parliamentary inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee will also proceed.

The details remain to be worked out. Sinn Fein and some Independent TDs say that the inquiry needed to go beyond just the sale of Project Eagle, although there is already opposition to a broad, open-ended inquiry into NAMA by the current coalition government.

There are also serious doubts that any inquiry could be effective in the absence of any powers to compel the testimony of witnesses who live in the North. The attention now focuses on whether the Stormont Assembly is willing to produce matching legislation to bring about a cross-border investigation.

Sinn Fein has said that all future NAMA sales should be stopped pending the inquiry. Speaking at a party ‘think-in’ in County Meath on Thursday, party leader Gerry Adams accused both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail of providing political cover to NAMA.

It is also claimed that Minister for Finance Michael Noonan was aware that there was a problem with the bidding process, including attempt at ‘fixers fees’ and illegal payments, but went ahead with the transaction.

“Sinn Fein has raised the issue of NAMA at least 34 times in the Dail,” Mr Adams said. I have spoken to the Taoiseach directly on this issue. I spoke three or four times to the Fianna Fail leader on this, I actually wrote to the Fianna Fail leader on the issue and he didn’t even bother to answer me. They voted against a commission of investigation,” he said.

“They have provided political cover for the robbing of citizens by those who are involved in improper transactions within Nama.”

ALL-IRELAND DIMENSION LACKING

Mr Adams also confirmed he would be urging Stormont leaders to assist with an immediate all-island inquiry. Both the North’s First Minister, DUP leader Arlene Foster and the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness insisted last week that police investigations should conclude before such an inquiry takes place.

Pressure is growing on Nama chair Frank Daly, who this week lashed out at the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, claiming it is not competent to pass judgement on the NAMA sales process.

Independent TD Mick Wallace, who has a prominent critic of of NAMA, has called for Daly to step down and that the proceeds of its ‘Project Eagle’ sale should be frozen under the proceeds of Crime Act.

“If the government want all the truth in the open, only a truly independent commission of investigation has any chance of exposing just how dysfunctional this organisation has been, and what the cost has been to the people of Ireland,” he said.

Allegations of financial corruption were first raised by Mr Wallace in the Dublin parliament last year, with further allegations of political wrongdoing made by loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson.

Bryson appeared before the Stormont finance committee members last September to allege that Peter Robinson was set to personally benefit from the 1.2 billion pound transaction, a claim Robinson has denied.

Last month, Sinn Fein’s former Stormont finance committee chair Daithi McKay quit after it emerged that he had advised the loyalist whistleblower on how to deliver his evidence to the committee. He remains the only direct political casualty of the scandal.

Martin McGuinness has indicated he will attend the inquiry in Dublin, and challenged prominent Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politicians and others named to do likewise, saying the people of Ireland would reach their own conclusions if they refused to appear.

“Let’s not forget there is 7 million pounds in a bank account in the Isle of Man,” he said.

“Let’s all focus on the situation where a man who was at the heart of this was receiving tens of thousands of pounds in a carpark in Belfast.

“I would be very surprised if there were not senior people in the DUP who were not as concerned about what was happening in a carpark in Belfast as we were,” said Mr McGuinness, referring to allegations Mr Cushnahan received 40,000 pounds in cash from a developer.

Asked about the legal difficulties in establishing a cross-jurisdictional inquiry, Mr McGuinness said if it were not possible, everybody should co-operate with the inquiry being set up by the Dublin government.

“People like Frank Cushnahan and Ian Coulter and Sammy Wilson and others, it’s up to them to contribute to that. If they are not prepared the people of Ireland can make up their own minds,” he said.

© 2016 Irish Republican News