Cab probes suspected Slab 'links to €40m fuel racket'
The Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) is spearheading part of an international investigation into suspected links between former Provisional IRA boss Thomas 'Slab' Murphy and a fuel-laundering racket estimated by law enforcement officers to have been yielding an annual turnover of €40m.
Global inquiries are being carried out into assets allegedly built up by the organisers of the illegal laundering and smuggling industry - including multi-million euro property portfolios in the UK and Dubai.
The inquiries are separate to the investigation that led to yesterday's jailing of Murphy at the Special Criminal Court.
But the probes are said by officers to be closely inter-connected to the criminal group allegedly built up by the 66-year-old reputed to have been the chief-of-staff of the Provisionals.
Yesterday, the bachelor farmer was jailed for 18 months following his conviction, on December 17 last, on nine counts of tax evasion.
The non-jury court, which said that it tried Murphy as "a farmer and cattle dealer", sentenced the Republican icon to 18 months in prison for each of the nine charges, with each sentence to run concurrently.
None of the jail term was suspended - and the court said it did not impose any fines as Mr Murphy had no assets.
But when Mr Murphy was convicted last year, the Cab issued a notice of its intention to proceed with a separate €5m civil action.
This arose out of a tax assessment which followed a 2006 raid on his farm complex in Co Louth, which straddles the border with Northern Ireland.
The civil action, initiated in 2006, could not proceed until the criminal case concluded, but is now being vigorously pursued by the agency.
According to the Cab, Murphy has been involved in cross-border oil smuggling over the past 20 years and has benefited financially from this activity.
A huge raid on Murphy's farm at Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, took place in 2006, involving officers from the Garda, PSNI, Cab, the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency and Revenue North and South.
Cash and cheques worth around €1.3m were seized and frozen, while settlements were also reached with some associates for a similar amount.
But now inquiries overseas indicate this could be the tip of the financial "iceberg" - although officers acknowledge that the property investments have not yet been firmly traced back to the suspects.
"This investigation is still very active but is highly complex with links to several overseas countries," one officer said last night. Provisional IRA figures operating along the south Armagh border with Louth and Monaghan have traditionally reaped huge financial dividends from criminal activities in the region, including the fuel scams, cigarette smuggling and illegal alcohol. However, the tentacles of the gangs have spread widely in both jurisdictions.
During one cross-Border raid involving Cab and police and customs, searches were also carried out in counties Dublin, Kildare, Waterford, Offaly, Roscommon, Westmeath, Meath and Tipperary.
The chief enforcer for the criminal gang, alleged to be led by Murphy, is, ironically, a former soldier with the Ulster Defence Regiment, whose soldiers were regularly targeted for attack by the Provisional IRA in the 1970s and 1980s.
A younger generation of criminals, linked to the former Provisional figures, have taken over daily control of the fuel business and many are understood to be developing operations and market in the UK, in conjunction with local crime gangs.
During the Murphy trial, the court heard evidence that, although he conducted dealings in relation to cattle and land, and received farming grants from the Department of Agriculture, he failed to make any returns to Revenue.
From 1996 to 2004, he received grants from the Department of Agriculture totalling over €100,000.
The payments were made for farming grant schemes including the Slaughter Premium Scheme, the Special Beef Premium and EU Area Aid.