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CAB praises ‘good citizen’ calls that help beat crime

Bureau last year returned more than €5m to the State, much of it helped by tip-offs 


Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Gubbins leads the Criminal Assets Bureau. Picture by Mark Condren

Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Gubbins leads the Criminal Assets Bureau. Picture by Mark Condren

Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Gubbins leads the Criminal Assets Bureau. Picture by Mark Condren

People are increasingly reporting neighbours and acquaintances to gardaí for living lavish lifestyles financed by the suspected proceeds of crime, the head of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) has said.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Gubbins said the bureau has noted an upsurge in “good citizen reports” this year.

“There has been an upsurge in reports from members of the public. This is when the public contact CAB because they’ve noticed someone they know, often a neighbour or acquaintance, displaying a lot of suspicious wealth,” he said.

“It can be fancy cars or jewellery, which they don’t necessarily have the means to afford — and this person who makes the report is suspicious that they are involved in crime.

“The beauty of it is that these reports are anonymous. The good citizens in question do not have to make a statement or give evidence at any future point. They simply make an anonymous report and we develop the information. I would encourage anyone who has suspicions of this kind to contact CAB.”

Many of these tip-offs, which take the form of emails and phone calls, result in the successful identification of those enjoying the trappings of wealth due to involvement in crime.

Last week, the bureau published its 2020 annual report, in which it revealed it had returned more than €5m to the Exchequer last year after seizing assets from drug traffickers and burglary gangs, among other criminals.

The report detailed how CAB last year had a record number of more than 1,700 criminal targets nationwide.

Det Chief Supt Gubbins said that figure has increased this year, to more than 1,800 targets.

“This year, CAB has 1,846 targets so far, and there are still three months left. Similar to last year, the vast majority of our current targets are involved in the sale and supply of drugs, to varying degrees. Burglary gangs are also a major target.”

He stressed that CAB was targeting criminals “all over the island of Ireland” and was “not Dublin-centric”.

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So far this year, an additional 102 divisional asset-profilers have been hired, bringing the number to more than 500 specialist profilers nationwide.

These officers are based in “every part of the country”, and it is their job to identify people who are living lifestyles funded by criminality.

While CAB always goes after the assets of “big fish” crime bosses, Det Chief Supt Gubbins said it was equally important to target up-and-coming drug dealers.

“Last year, a quarter of our cases were targeting people whose assets were worth between €5,000 and €25,000, so it’s also very much about stopping these young drug dealers in their tracks, putting them out of business and trying to steer them away from a life of crime before they become big-time.

“We find the work we are doing is very important to local communities who do not want criminality and drug dealing flaunted in the areas where they are trying to raise their families and live law-abiding lives.”

CAB’s annual report reveals it took possession of €53m worth of Bitcoin last year — but it does not have the codes to realise those assets. This newspaper understands this cryptocurrency was seized from Clifton Collins, who was jailed for operating an extensive cannabis growhouse operation in Co Galway.

A Gyro aircraft also seized by CAB last year is also understood to be owned by Collins.

“The Bitcoin code cannot be broken at present, it would take a huge amount of know-how to do so — and even then, it might never be possible to break the model. The most important thing is that the Bitcoin has been taken out of circulation in criminal terms and was seized by gardaí,” Det Chief Supt Gubbins said.

“Cryptocurrency cases will always be investigated by CAB when they arise, but it is drug trafficking that continues to dominate our work.”

While the activities of burglary gangs reduced due to the pandemic, the criminals involved remain “major targets” for CAB and include Irish criminals and foreign gangs, some of which originate in Eastern Europe.

So far this year, there have been significant CAB operations in Longford, Limerick and Dublin.

“But there are CAB operations all over the country,” Det Chief Supt Gubbins said. “We are now reaching everywhere.”

He pointed to a trend of criminals trying to hide their wealth by buying properties.

“Hiding ill-gotten gains in property has always been done, but it’s particularly popular again right now. When we do our raids, the general public becomes aware of what we seize in terms of the expensive watches, handbags, jewellery and cash hidden. Often, we target the houses themselves, but there’s a longer court process to take control of these properties.

“There is also a notable increase in High Court seizures of properties being used as cannabis growhouses.”

CAB’s annual report highlighted that it was also targeting 40 groups or individuals living outside Ireland.

Last week, Justice Minister Heather Humphreys said that, despite the pandemic, CAB continued to play a crucial role in tacking serious crime.

“The 2020 annual report evidences the hard work and dedication of chief bureau officer Mick Gubbins and all of the staff and agencies involved in CAB, and I would like to thank them for their ongoing efforts and determination to deprive criminals of the benefits of their illegal activity,” the minister said.

“The Government is fully committed to continuing to support the excellent work the bureau does.”

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