THE Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) is taking High Court action against a series of suspected fuel launderers in a nationwide crackdown, it has been revealed.
The bureau is listed in a total of 25 High Court cases where assets belonged to the targeted figures have already been frozen.
The value of the assets is estimated to be worth about €1.75m.
But the bureau may seek to inflict further financial penalties on the targets through substantial tax demands.
Most of those being targeted are based in either south Armagh or counties Louth and Monaghan and are under investigation by the gardai and Customs.
Some of the targets have been linked in the past with the leadership of the Provisional IRA, which traditionally reaped massive financial dividends from criminal activities in the Border region including fuel scams and cigarette smuggling.
One gang's tentacles spread throughout the State.
In a major operation last year, led by the bureau here and the North's customs officers, searches were carried out in counties Louth, Monaghan, Dublin, Kildare, Waterford, Offaly, Roscommon, Westmeath, Meath and Tipperary, as well as south Armagh on the far side of the Border.
The home of a petrol retailer and the offices of an international transport company were among the premises raided and a large number of files, computers and discs were seized during the raids.
More than two dozen bank accounts were subsequently frozen and cash seized while a fuel plant, with the capacity to launder several hundred thousand litres of diesel, was also uncovered.
Bureau officers spent months tracking down bank accounts suspected of being used by the launderers and initial finds opened up fresh leads as the financial extent of the operation widened.
Under the Proceeds of Crime Act -- introduced in legislation after the murders of journalist Veronica Guerin and Det Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996 -- assets must be frozen for seven years before the State can seek an order from the High Court to confiscate them.
But, in the meantime, the CAB can co-operate with other garda specialist units and outside agencies, such as Customs and Social Welfare, in building up dossiers on targeted figures and preparing tax demands to serve on them.
Apart from the gangs, directly linked to former Provisional IRA leaders or dissident republican groups, other suspected launderers have also come into the sights of the bureau.
One businessman, who is regarded as a kingpin in the cross-border trade, will shortly be served with a seven-figure tax demand by the CAB following a multi-agency investigation into his activities.
He has been a key target of gardai and Customs for several years and has already made one substantial settlement with the bureau.