CAB switches focus from property to cash as receccsion hits income
The State's most lethal weapon against major criminals is being hit by the recession.
The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) has admitted that the massive drop in property values has undermined the amount of funding it is generating for the central exchequer.
As a result of the property downturn, the CAB has adopted alternative tactics and is now focusing more on cash and bank accounts while, in some cases, financial institutions can exercise their right to recoup their cash by selling off property which is the proceeds of crime.
Their strategies are being changed to combat :
•Property investments producing negative value.
•Difficulties encountered by the CAB in selling property.
•The need to liaise more with financial institutions, which have a mortgage, charge, or an interest in the property.
•Executing judgments ob-tained for tax or social welfare due against people, who now have a significantly reduced net worth.
At present, the CAB is trying to dispose of a number of seized properties on its books, including houses and commercial premises in Galway, Cork, Dublin, Clonmel, and other urban centres.
Some of the properties would have fetched up to €500,000 before the recession but are now likely to be sold for around half the original value.
But, in its annual report published yesterday, the CAB noted that despite the fall in the financial return, the objective of its actions against the targeted criminal remained the same. Any interest held by the criminal in the proceeds of crime must be eliminated and that was its primary function.
The report said that while the main emphasis would be on major criminal figures, the CAB would continue its policy of also targeting lower value assets.
It said that while this did not necessarily return a significant income to the State, it boosted public confidence in the criminal justice system and acted as a general deterrent.
During the year the CAB took action in the High Court in 15 new cases under the Proceeds of Crime Act with most against suspected drug traffickers.
But cases were also brought against targets suspected of being involved in prostitution, theft and the illegal trade in counterfeit goods.
Cash totalling more than €3.1m was handed over to the exchequer as a result of proceeds of crime proceedings, while the CAB also collected over €4m from revenue cases, and in excess of €180,000 for social welfare overpayments.
Since it was founded in October 1996, in the wake of the murder of investigative journalist Veronica Guerin, the CAB has obtained interim freezing orders to the value of over €62m, Stg£18.8m and US$6.6m and final confiscation orders to the value of over €38m, Stg£3m and US$5.4m.
Taxes and interest demanded amounted to over €188m with over €133m collected while there were social welfare savings of almost €5m with over €1.7m recovered.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter said last night he was pursuing an initiative at EU level to establish a European confiscation regime, similar to the one used by the CAB, where assets could be seized even though the target had not been convicted of a crime.