herald

Tuesday 27 September 2016

SF politician to be quizzed in witness coaching claims

Mairtin O Muilleoir
Mairtin O Muilleoir

Under-fire Sinn Fein politician Mairtin O Muilleoir is to appear before a Stormont finance committee amid claims party colleagues coached a key witness in the Nama inquiry.

Mr O Muilleoir - the North's Finance Minister - is under pressure to step aside after his name appeared in a private message between party member Thomas O'Hara and witness Jamie Bryson.

Mr O Muilleoir is now due before the Stormont finance committee to answer questions over the controversy.

Both Mr O'Hara and former MLA Daithi McKay were suspended by Sinn Fein after it emerged they had coached Mr Bryson on how to give evidence.

In particular, Mr O'Hara advised Mr Bryson on the manner in which he should deliver testimony implicating then First Minister Peter Robinson.

Mr Bryson claimed Mr Robinson was one of the intended recipients of a £7m kick-back from the €1.6bn sale of Nama's northern loan portfolio, Project Eagle. This was denied by the former DUP leader. In one message, Mr O'Hara said he was trying to establish if Mr Bryson had any evidence that Mr O Muilleoir "could jump on".

A meeting of Stormont's finance committee heard yesterday Mr O Muilleoir had agreed to a request to appear before it, but had not responded to a call to step aside.

The development came as the Project Eagle controversy deepened further with revelations in a BBC Spotlight programme that Nama advisor Frank Cushnahan was given £40,000 (€47,400) in a bag by property developer John Miskelly, a Nama debtor.

Deal

In a recording of the meeting in 2012, Mr Cushnahan was heard saying he was going to help Mr Miskelly with a refinancing deal which would get his assets out of Nama. He also claimed he could influence Nama's then head of asset recovery, Ronnie Hanna, saying they were "as thick as thieves".

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr Hanna, who has denied having any improper dealings with Mr Cushnahan. Mr Hanna left Nama in 2014, shortly after the Project Eagle deal.

Pressure on the Government to launch an inquiry into the sale intensified in the wake of the revelations.

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