Foreign gangs are attracted here by flawed bail system
Eastern European gangs will target Ireland increasingly because the "vast majority" of those caught for crimes ranging from ATM robbery, credit-card fraud and, most recently, robbery from parking meters on a large scale, receive bail almost automatically and abscond, gardai say.
The parking-meter gang of Eastern European origin is the latest to hit Ireland. It is linked to gangs that have been operating similar scams in Britain in recent years.
The gangs first began working in London, which has the highest parking costs in Europe, and now Dublin's high parking costs have made Ireland their latest target.
A senior garda source last week said that a "broken" justice system makes Ireland an attractive target. He said judges cannot be blamed for granting bail even though flight is a clear risk, as there is not enough space in prisons even for convicted criminals.
Hundreds of people from Eastern Europe have been arrested and charged by gardai in relation to ATM card fraud, only to spend four weeks in prison awaiting their bail hearing. Gardai say that upon release they "disappear", probably to work in other jurisdictions.
Few successful prosecutions have taken place in relation to the multi-million ATM and credit-card scams, and those who stayed in Ireland and were dealt with were described as minor players or pawns. Two cases involving the ATM card "skimming" received sentences -- of two years in the case of a Roma gypsy woman, and one year in the case of a Roma man who was said to be a drug addict.
Both were said to have been under the control of others. In the man's case the court heard that he had been used to withdraw cash using skimmed cards by another man who had 12 cards in his possession when he was arrested. This man failed to appear after being granted bail.
Gardai say that when people do come to trial here, the belief is that they are minor figures who have been abandoned by the crime gangs.
Last year, gardai arrested two Roma men and a woman in Dublin city centre after one of the men was seen to use three cards in the same ATM machine. When searched, he had a further 12 cards. The three had arrived in Dublin from London by air the previous day and had booked into a hotel in the south of the city.
Gardai found a further 30 skimmed cards in their hotel room and €60,000 in cash and goods. The cards had the skimmed magnetic strip and the pin-code numbers written with fibre-tip pen.
It is believed the three had flown to Dublin and had paid a fee to the skimmer gang for the cards and were in the process of maximising the amount of cash they could withdraw over a two-day period before flying back out.
All three were charged and brought before Dublin District Court. They applied for and were granted bail after the standard four-week period, and did not turn up for their next court date. They could not be traced in Ireland.
Similar cases have been reported nationwide.
Banks do not say how much money has been defrauded by the skimmers, and the cost is effectively passed on to their customers. Gardai also rarely disclose amounts involved, but sources say millions are being stolen every year here, mostly by highly organised Roma gangs.
The latest influx of eastern European criminals comprises well-organised gangs who can make thousands a week by robbing parking meters. One gang operating in Dublin had worked out the routes and timing of the official collectors.
The meters are usually emptied on a regular basis, normally every six weeks. The gang estimates when the meters are about half-full then, using skeleton keys, they empty them.
Dublin City Council has declined to say how many meters had been robbed, or if there was any estimate of how much money had been stolen.
Its press office said: "We are aware of the situation, and we are working closely with the gardai on this matter. We cannot comment further at this time."