Plan to speed up confiscation of gangsters' frozen assets
A NEW drive to speed up the confiscation of frozen criminal assets is set to be unveiled, the Irish Independent has learnt.
It is one of a series of tough new measures expected to emerge from a major review of the powers available to the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB).
The move will allow CAB to crack down more efficiently on the assets of major gangland players, terrorists, local thugs and drug traffickers.
At present, seven years must elapse before criminal assets that have been frozen by the courts can become the property of the State.
But a special working group set up by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern is studying a proposal to reduce the term from seven years to two before the assets can be forfeited and sold off.
The change would result in financial windfalls for the State every two years and clear up logjams caused by the existing delay in the courts.
Those in favour of cutting the time limit argue there are already in-built safeguards.
These allow compensation to be paid to the target of the forfeiture order if new evidence becomes available after the two years showing that the assets had been acquired through legal funding.
The annual report for CAB for 2009, expected to be published in July, will show the agency paid more than €1.4m to the Exchequer last year from disposed assets as a result of 16 cases being completed in the courts under the Proceeds of Crime Act. The bureau also collected €5m in taxes from criminal conduct and achieved savings of €700,000 from social welfare scams.
Those figures do not include assets that are the subject of court freezing orders, but cannot be confiscated.
The total amount of assets seized by CAB since it was set up is estimated to be in the region of €185m.
The report will also show the number of divisional profilers, who target criminals on a local basis, has increased from 91 in 2008 to 115 last year, with an extra 13 customs officers trained up by CAB in the past year.
The concept of appointing profilers to each garda division across the State was created by the chief bureau officer, Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Byrne, after the late independent Dail deputy Tony Gregory suggested setting up mini-Cabs in each area.
"The profilers play a vital role in each division and, although answerable to their local chief superintendent, they work in close co-operation with us and ensure that we are targeting criminals at a community level as well as the big gangland figures," Det Chief Supt Byrne told the Irish Independent.
"We also want to impress on weekend drug users, who buy a €10 deal of cannabis or purchase cocaine for personal use, that they are helping the organised crime gangs involved in large-scale trafficking and gangland murders."
CAB has also struck a number of significant blows recently to travelling gangs, preying on rural and elderly victims, burgling their homes and using violence against them. In one case, the bureau confiscated a 4x4 vehicle from a targeted figure.
Meanwhile, Operation Gem, which is focusing on key figures involved in major crime gangs, is still active and further strikes are being planned.
Earlier this year, more than 50 searches were carried out on properties in Dublin city centre as well as on houses in several suburbs on the northside and southside and in counties Wicklow, Wexford, Cavan, Galway and Mayo.
A large haul of legal files and documentation was taken from several offices of accountants and solicitors.
An air pistol, small quantities of cocaine and cannabis, and €70,000 in cash were also seized in the raids.