Sunday 18 February 2018

Gardai warn of upsurge in gang extortion crime

Businessman's family targeted as splinter republicans step up racketeering in capital


GARDAI have received reports that eight extortion attempts were made on Dublin businesses in the past three months by splinter republican groups.

Those targeted included car dealers and publicans, as well as dubious businesses suspected of laundering money for criminals.

Garda sources say the figures represent the tip of the iceberg in a recent "upsurge" in criminal racketeering by dissident republican groups, the Real IRA and the INLA.

"There has been an upsurge in complaints in the last two to three months," said a senior garda source. "These groups are 'taxing' crime and legitimate businesses."

Four businesses in the south Dublin suburbs of Tallaght and Crumlin were approached for money by dissident republicans in the past three months.

The other four extortion attempts occurred in the north and south inner city.

In one case, a businessman reported that his children were being watched at school after he refused to pay a cut of his profits to two men claiming to represent the Real IRA.

The modus operandi is similar in most cases. In the south Dublin cases, the businesspeople involved were approached directly at their business premises by two brothers, who claimed to represent the Real IRA. They were accompanied by two or three burly minders, but of the reports made to detectives so far, the threats were not explicit. In one case, the dissident republicans asked for 25 per cent of the profits of a business in return for protection.

When the offer was refused, personal remarks were made about the man's family that led him to believe they had his wife and children under surveillance.

"They believe their children are being watched going to school, that their cars are watched," said the garda source.

But while at least eight people have reported the extortion rackets, none has been willing to make a formal statement. Gardai say they fear reprisals if they were to instigate a full investigation.

The Real IRA's extortion attempts are linked to north Dublin brothers who are said to be leading a fundraising campaign for dissidents.

Garda Headquarters is monitoring the intelligence on the increased level of extortion, which emerged last year when dissident republicans were suspected of supplying security on the doors of pubs and nightclubs.

Gardai have stepped up their investigations into the group after an increase in dissident activity, and British authorities have raised the threat-level of an attack from 'moderate' to 'substantial'.

The group was behind a recent bomb attack in Derry. Gardai discovered a weapons stash in Co Louth last week, which included a machine gun and mortars. It was suspected that they were used they were to be used in an imminent attack. A second cache of weapons was found in Tallaght on Wednesday.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy acknowledged the problem last week, saying: "It's our job to get the intelligence and my people are running operations in Dublin as we speak.

"Where there's the possibility of profit, there will always be people who will try and get in on the action. The job is for the forces of law and order to prevent that."

Sunday Independent

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