October 6, 2016 / 2:40 PM / 3 years ago

UK crime agency investigating six in relation to Irish 'bad bank' sale

BELFAST (Reuters) - Six people are under criminal investigation in connection with the sale by Ireland’s state-run “bad bank” of a multi-billion-pound portfolio of Northern Irish loans, the head of Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) was quoted as saying on Thursday.

The NCA opened an inquiry last year into the National Asset Management Agency’s (NAMA) 1.3 billion pound sale in 2014 of its entire portfolio of loans belonging to Northern Ireland-based debtors to U.S. private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

The investigation began after an independent member of the Irish parliament raised concerns about the portfolio, alleging that a 7 million-pound fee had been “earmarked” for a Northern Ireland politician. The NCA arrested two men earlier this year.

“We have interviewed over 40 witnesses, we have searched eight properties, we have achieved a number of court orders both for private properties and for public locations, and our inquiries continue,” NCA director general Lynne Owens told the BBC.

Possible offences being investigated include bribery, fraud and corruption, she added.

NAMA, which became one of the largest property groups in the world in 2009 when it paid 32 billion euros to purge local banks of risky loans worth over double that amount, has said the investigation is in no way concerned with its side of the sale.

Cerberus has said that no improper or illegal fees were paid by it or on its behalf.

The U.S. Department of Justice and parliamentary committees in both the Irish and Northern Irish parliament are also investigating the deal.

Dublin this week ordered a statutory investigation into the transaction after the state’s audit body said last month that NAMA set too low a minimum price for the sale. NAMA rejected that the loan book, dubbed Project Eagle, had been mis-priced.

Reporting by Amanda Ferguson; editing Padraic Halpin and Ralph Boulton

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