Gardai probe potential criminal links of cash-for-gold stores
GARDAI are to investigate cash-for-gold stores over fears criminal gangs are using them to sell stolen goods.
Gardai are reporting an increase in the number of burglars who are ignoring flat-screen TVs and cameras when they break into homes -- and instead grabbing whatever jewellery they can find.
There is currently no legislation to regulate the industry or to force those who are selling the jewellery to prove that they obtained it from a legitimate source.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern has now asked Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy to launch an investigation in to how much stolen gold is being sold through these shops. He has also asked them to investigate if criminal gangs are operating any of these stores as a front for selling stolen valuables and money laundering.
The garda report is not likely to be submitted until next year. Any changes introduced as a result will be done by Mr Ahern's successor after last week's announcement of his intention to retire from public office.
"I have formally asked the commissioner for his view as to the extent of criminal offences being committed in the transactions carried out at cash-for-gold locations," Mr Ahern said.
"In particular, the commissioner has been asked to examine whether the trade may be linked generally, or in particular areas, to burglary offences."
The cash-for-gold market has exploded in the past two years thanks to the precious metal's high price. It currently stands at €900 an ounce, up from €183 an ounce in December 1999.
Some people in dire economic straits are bringing their jewellery to these stores, while others are selling jewellery that has gone out of fashion. Last night, Labour TD Tommy Broughan welcomed the move by the minister.
He said that although the majority of shops and businesses involved are legitimate, people have real concerns about some outlets.
"The on-street and door-to-door gold operations are causing serious disquiet among many citizens," he said. "Some of my constituents believe gold jewellery and other items stolen in the recent upsurge in robberies and house burglaries are turning up in some of these operations."
Dermot Jewell of the Consumers Association of Ireland said that although they have received no complaints, they have received many enquiries.
"In this area we don't really know how to advise people," he said.
"People are confused about whether some of these stores are legitimate and how they came about.
"The fact that so many have sprung up all of a sudden makes people concerned about who is funding them and who is searching for all this gold.
"They are concerned there could be some element of crime behind it."
Fine Gael senator John Paul Phelan said he met with officials from the Department of Justice last week in order to present them with a private members bill he has been working on with his colleague John Deasy.
"They are waiting on word back from the gardai to see if there are links to organised crime," he said.
"Anecdotally gardai are reporting around the country that the amount of jewellery being robbed has increased and we're just waiting now to see if new legislation is needed."
There are no statistics for how many cash-for-gold stores there are in Ireland but scores of shops have opened in many small towns around the country this year.
Proof of ownership of the jewellery is not required in many stores, while most do not request ID.