Fraud squad chiefs have arrested two men in Northern Ireland in connection with a record £1.2 billion property deal.
Searches were also carried out in Co Down as part of inquiries into the sale of assets and property loans by Ireland’s “bad bank”, the National Assets Management Agency (Nama), to US investment fund Cerberus.
The investigation by the National Crime Agency, the UK’s lead policing body, was sparked by the discovery of a £7 million offshore transfer to an Isle of Man bank.
The money was paid into an account controlled by a former managing partner of Belfast-based law firm Tughans who resigned after it was unearthed.
Tughans, which was involved in the Nama transaction as subcontractor for Cerberus’s US lawyers Brown Rudnick, insisted it was not aware of the transfer.
An NCA spokesman said: “Officers from the National Crime Agency have today carried out two arrests and related searches in the Co Down area in connection with a fraud investigation. The operation is being assisted by the PSNI.
“As the investigation is continuing we are unable to comment further.”
Other investigations are ongoing including by the US Department of Justice’s Securities and Exchange Commission.
Parliamentary inquiries have been conducted in Stormont and Dublin amid a raft of allegations about fixer fees behind the deal.
Speaking in the Dail parliament in Dublin, premier Enda Kenny again rejected calls for a state inquiry, insisting that no allegations of wrongdoing had been made against Nama.
Responding to the arrests north of the border, he said: “If they have been arrested, I assume they have been arrested for good reason in respect of activities that would be outside the law.
“I trust that will see itself through that process and be judged before the courts.”
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said Mr Kenny was like “a rabbit caught in headlights” and branded the Nama sale a “national scandal and a disgrace”.
“The sale of Nama’s Northern loan book has been subject of serious allegations of a cosy cartel, of insider trading, payments to the golden circle and payment of illegal fixer fees.”
Nama is the so-called “bad bank” set up in Ireland at the height of the financial crisis to take property linked loans off the books of bailed-out banks.
It signed off on the Project Eagle deal in April 2014 by selling 800 property linked loans to Cerberus, a multibillion fund which boasts former US vice president Dan Quayle in its ranks.
But the sale has been dogged by controversy since allegations were first made under parliamentary privilege that some of the money in the Isle of Man account was destined for a politician.
Further revelations, also under parliamentary privilege, separately claimed £45 million had been earmarked for fixers and there were five beneficiaries of the £7 million.
All parties involved in the £1.2 billion transaction in 2014 have denied wrongdoing.
Cerberus won the auction by offering £1.241 billion for loans linked to the Northern Ireland properties when the reserve price was £1.24 billion.
Project Eagle was valued by Nama at 27p in the pound, with some assets as low as 5p in the pound.
Mr Adams said Nama had fully briefed Dublin’s Finance Minister Michael Noonan on the issues – including a “totally irregular and illegal” £15 million fixer fee – but the sale of Project Eagle was never suspended.
Despite numerous investigations in Northern Ireland and the US, there has been no such inquiry in the Republic, the Sinn Fein leader told the Dail.
“In this state, the Government, the Minister for Finance and Nama have closed ranks,” he said.
“This is a public interest matter. It must be fully investigated to get to the bottom of any allegations of wrongdoing and cosy cartels which have cost the citizens of this state millions of euros.”
Cerberus insisted its investment is not central to the investigations, but that the role of third parties in the sale is being examined.
Mick Wallace, an Independent TD in the Republic, first raised questions about the Project Eagle sale.
“Nama insisted all along, and the Taoiseach, that there’s no relationship between the sale of Project Eagle and the purchase, that’s a fairytale,” he said.