A garda sergeant has been suspended from duty following an investigation into a fraudulent passport racket.
The scandal was uncovered after months of inquiries carried out by detectives from the national bureau of criminal investigation (NBCI), the Irish Independent has learned.
Officers believe a criminal gang has obtained a series of forged passports, containing the identity details of innocent people, to allow them to travel overseas without arousing the suspicion of gardaí.
The garda has been suspended for allegedly being involved in signing off passport application forms that contained bogus information.
As part of the investigation, gardaí carried out a number of searches of houses.
During one search last week in Co Laois, officers seized around €100,000 in cash, although this money is not believed to be directly linked to the passport scam but is being held in connection with wider inquiries into organised crime.
Officers also seized a large amount of documentation and a computer. Mobile phones have also been taken away for forensic examination as part of the operation.
The suspended garda is not based in any station in Co Laois.
The searches were carried out under warrant but did not result in any arrests.
Gardaí said last night they were still involved in gathering evidence in the long-running investigation and that arrests could be made at a later date.
Some of the criminals involved in the racket are already known to gardaí but are not part of any of the major gangs.
Officers believe they obtained the identity details of a number of people, some of whom may be deceased, and then used that information to fill in passport application forms.
Those forms, containing the people's identity details but with photos of the criminals affixed, were then allegedly brought to the garda to sign.
Gardaí believe the gang suspected of organising the passport fraud has links with an international crime organisation and associates travel overseas to widen their activities.
They use the forged passports to help them avoid coming to the attention of the authorities when they are leaving the jurisdiction. The full extent of the passport racket is still being determined, and inquiries are continuing.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) said last night it had not been notified of any garda member being suspended from duty as a result of a criminal investigation.
"If there is an investigation into alleged criminal activity by a garda or gardaí currently under way, in the absence of Gsoc involvement, this would mean there is no independent oversight of any internal investigation at this time," the spokesperson added.