Sunday 23 November 2014

Dissidents funded ‘by armed robbery, extortion and drug pushing’

Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 26/06/2013 | 11:50

DISSIDENT republicans are heavily involved in criminality such as armed robbery, extortion and drug pushing, a new report out today has revealed.

Despite denouncing organised crime and meting out punishment for so-called anti-social behaviour, dissident groups are still largely dependent on illegal rackets to fund their terrorist activities, the Organised Crime Task Force has claimed.

Over the past year they have generated significant sums of money from fuel laundering, tobacco smuggling, money laundering, burglary, insurance fraud, counterfeit currency and intimidation.

"Dissident republican groups also remain heavily involved in 'civil administration' and extortion against those they suspect of being involved in organised crime, in particular drugs supply," the OCTF annual report said.

Some loyalist paramilitaries including the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) are also still involved in organised crime.

It is unclear how much of this activity has been sanctioned by the leadership, however some members were involved in extortion, money lending, robbery, contraband, drugs, burglary, thefts from the rural community and money laundering.

The Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) is a forum which brings together government, law enforcement and a range of agencies. It was established in Northern Ireland in 2000 under the auspice of the Department of Justice and is chaired by Minister David Ford. Its annual report was launched at the Crumlin Road jail complex today.

Mr Ford said organised crime continued to present challenges.

"During 2012/13 the murder of Garda Donohoe in the Republic of Ireland in January has brought home the dangers faced by those fighting organised crime.

"It also highlights the importance of the excellent co-operation that exists between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. The challenges faced by tackling organised crime of course extend well beyond the island. Organised crime groups operate into Great Britain and globally. Drugs and human trafficking victims are examples of this. Cyber Crime is another and we have recently established a sub-group on that issue," he said.

Criminal assets worth about £2.1 million were recovered in Northern Ireland over the past year.

There were 4,475 drug seizures -- almost 1,000 more than the previous year -- which took substances with an estimated value of £10.2 million off the streets.

Cannabis was the most commonly found drug but Benzodiazepines accounted for one-in-10 seizures with 95,542 tablets recovered.

A further 11.6kg of cocaine, 1 kg of heroin and 6,000 ecstacy tablets were also removed by police during the past year.

"The emergence of new psychoactive substances has been challenging for law enforcement and also increases the risks for users who may be unaware of the true nature of the substance they are taking.

"A growing illicit market in prescription drugs is increasingly being exploited by OCGs (organised crime gangs) who are keen to make money, regardless of the potential impact on the communities in which they live. The extortion of those involved in drugs supply has also become a way for paramilitary groups to both raise money and exert control over the community," the report added.

A total of 2,784 people were arrested by the PSNI for drug offences - almost 10% more than the previous year.

The number of tiger kidnappings has fallen. There were two last year compared with seven in 2011 however, the OCTF has warned there is still a small hardcore of experienced organised crime gangs intent on carrying out this type of offence.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs officials dismantled 22 fuel laundering plants -- mostly in south Armagh. More than 820,000 of illicit fuel valued at £480,000 of evaded revenue were found.

Human trafficking was another major issue for organised crime fighting officers. Victims who were brought in China, Romania, Nigeria, Poland, the Philippines and Guinea-Bissau were used for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.

During the period, there were nine arrests for controlling prostitution resulting in three people being charged and a further three reported to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). There were a further 13 arrests for brothel keeping and one woman is currently being pursued through the courts for human trafficking offences.

There were also 567 convictions for benefit fraud.

"The area of fraud and criminal finance continues to develop as criminals adapt their methods to a changing economic environment. In the past year law enforcement agencies in Northern Ireland have continued to see insider-enabled fraud and also the use of 'electronic money' and pre-pay cards in order to facilitate both fraud and money laundering," the report said.

Meanwhile, the OCTF said there is a lack of understanding among members of the public about the connection between organised crime and counterfeit goods.

Minister Ford added: "It is also crucial that all members of our society understand how their actions can potentially support organised crime and impact on the society in which they live or work.

"Money spent on fake goods lines the pockets of criminals and enables them to purchase drugs or to run prostitution rings involving trafficked victims. We want politicians to work with us to increase the volume of the message against organised criminals and we want the public to reject laundered fuel and fake goods and to report suspicious behaviour."

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