Customs officers get more power to quiz drug suspects
CUSTOMS officers will be given greater powers to interview suspects who are in garda custody as part of a joint investigation.
The new measures will apply particularly to Revenue officers who are working alongside gardai and social welfare officials in the Criminal Assets Bureau.
Under the Finance Act, the officers have the right to attend and take part in the questioning of suspects detained in connection with inquiries into customs offences and some crimes covered by the Tax Acts, including evasion of VAT.
But legislation being introduced by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern will allow them to take part in electronically recorded interviewing of suspects detained under drug trafficking legislation, which is regularly used by gardai to hold suspects in serious criminal investigations.
The changes will require amendments to existing legislation and will be included in a catch-all measure, the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
The additional powers will be welcomed by Revenue, who are placing a greater focus on prosecutions of suspects when seizing drug shipments or smuggled cigarettes.
In the past, Revenue tended to concentrate on seizing the illegal goods rather than making arrests and this led to friction with the gardai, who were attempting to bring criminal prosecutions.
Revenue are now putting greater resources into securing prosecutions and processing cases through the criminal courts.
They expect 73 prosecutions of suspects will be initiated as a result of a two-week nationwide blitz on cigarette smugglers last month.
Officers used a large number of search warrants during the operation and these will now result in prosecutions for excise offences.
Revenue had six cases related to serious indictable crime in the courts last year and five of those resulted in custodial sentences. This compared to three cases in 2008.
A big increase in prosecutions for less serious summary offences was also recorded in the district court.
The annual report for the Criminal Assets Bureau, which is expected to be published shortly, will show it collected €5m in taxes from criminal conduct, while also handing over €1.4m to the Exchequer from disposed assets as a result of cases being completed in the courts under the Proceeds of Crime Act.