THE Criminal Assets Bureau has been given the power to seize the family homes of gangsters.
This major breakthrough in the courts has paved the way for the bureau to move against several criminals, who were claiming their properties could not be touched because they were occupied by their wives and children.
The key decision has been handed down by the Supreme Court after a lengthy legal battle and is seen by the bureau as a significant boost to their powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Proposed seizures involving at least three other properties have been waiting in the pipeline for the outcome of this test case.
The judgment was given in a case involving counterfeit clothes dealer John Kelly (54), who had been convicted of possession of cannabis for sale and supply but was later acquitted on appeal.
Lawyers for his partner, who cannot be named by order of the court but was known in the proceedings as TT, argued that she and their two children should be allowed to remain in the house at The Belfry complex in Inchicore, Dublin, as they had a constitutional right to live in the family home.
But the Supreme Court ruled against her.
The property was transferred to the Minister for Finance as a result of the judgment. CAB is currently taking steps with the minister to place the property for sale with the proceeds being handed to central funds.
The decision ended a court battle that began in May 1997 when the bureau obtained a short-term freezing order against the property from the High Court. CAB also issued tax collection proceedings against Kelly for €378,522 he allegedly owed in income tax.
In March 1998 the High Court granted an order freezing Kelly's assets for seven years.
And in July 2000, Kelly was convicted of having 48 slabs of cannabis resin for sale and supply on May 12, 1997, at Liffey Valley Park in west Dublin.
His conviction for drug dealing was quashed by the court of criminal appeal in March 2002 on technical grounds and he was subsequently acquitted of any outstanding charges.
But the Supreme Court found this "of limited weight" in view of the concessions that had been made by Kelly during the hearing.
The court also said that TT had given no evidence that she had contributed to the purchase of the property.
The judgment added: "One cannot lose sight of the fact that for some 22 years since 1990, and as distinct from many in the community, the appellant has had the benefit of living rent and mortgage-free in the property, which was acquired by the proceeds of crime."