Tuesday 20 November 2018

Hitting them where it hurts

By MARTIN BREHENY

Gerry Hutch, prime suspect for two of the biggest armed robberies in the State's history, is on the verge of settling the final portion of his £1.2m tax bill. Jerome Reilly reports on this latest success for the Criminal Assets Bureau which has seized more than £13m since being set up in 1996.

The last criminal conviction registered against Gerry Hutch, better known as The Monk, was 17 years ago but the Criminal Assets Bureau believe the self-styled northside businessman has made more than £4 million as a career criminal.



Although the CAB could never gather hard enough evidence to secure a criminal conviction, he remains the prime suspect behind two of the most audacious armed robberies in Irish history.



On January 25, 1987, a Securicor van was robbed at gunpoint near Marino Mart in the city centre with the gang responsible getting away with more than £1.5 million.



Gardai subsequently froze a number of bank accounts in Newry, Co, Down, said to be controlled by Hutch which contained £70,000. Hutch challenged the seizure in the Northern Ireland courts but was unsuccessful. The money was eventually handed over to the insurance company which had insured the money stolen in the robbery.



One year after the Marino Mart heist, there was another huge robbery when £3.8 million was taken from the Brinks Allied security depot at Clonshaugh, again by the gang of highly efficient and heavily armed men.



CAB asserted that Hutch was behind both these robberies and this was the basis for its original demand for tax and interest totalling nearly £2 million. It is also convinced that, although he was never involved in the drugs trade, Hutch was responsible for a number of other significant robberies involving firearms.



That original claim has now been reduced to some £1.2 million and Hutch has sold some of his considerable portfolio of property and transferred cash from foreign bank accounts to a Dublin city centre financial institution in preparation for settling the bulk of his outstanding tax liabilities.



However, the asset-selling has not yet been fully completed. There is another property owned by Hutch to be sold as well as a prime site of land.



It's been a tortuous legal battle to get Hutch to cough up. After extensive enquiries by the CAB officials, including tax experts who have been seconded to the Bureau from the Revenue Commissioners, a High Court judgement was granted against Hutch for £2,031,551, made up of an assessment of income tax for nine years augmented by an interest penalty at the rate of 2 per cent each month.



That was due to be appealed by Hutch's legal team to the Supreme Court but as part of the final settlement Hutch agreed to drop the Supreme Court action and a final tax bill of £1.2 million was agreed.



In March he handed over £500,000 and the remaining £700,000 is now about to fall into the hands of the State.



CAB investigators trawled Irish financial institutions and off-shore institutions in the search for Hutch's assets.



They found that he was the beneficial owner of a number of houses and apartments and CAB officers were also convinced that he had interests in the licensed trade.



Hutch lives in a valuable property in Clontarf which was purchased for £100,000 but is probably worth closer to £300,000 as a result of the property boom.



He has also controlled an array of bank accounts in the Republic, Northern Ireland and in off-shore financial institutions, either in his own name or the names of family and close associates.



As a result of its original investigations, CAB came into possession of title deeds of four properties in Buckingham Street, all of them registered in the names of close relatives of Hutch. Other properties linked to the Monk include real estate in Railway Street, Sean McDermott Street and Talbot Street in Dublin. It is unclear how many of these properties have since been sold. Hutch is also understood to have had a beneficial interest with others in a commercial development in Drury Street.



During the past two years the Criminal Assets Bureau has issued orders on about 30 financial institutions in the State seeking information about Gerry Hutch's assets.



The enquiries also brought CAB to the capital of Jersey, St Helier, where a number of accounts were investigated.



It now looks as though Gerry Hutch, who claimed he made his money by shrewdly investing income from a number of personal injury and libel actions, is about to become tax compliant.



The success of the Criminal Assets Bureau has been dependent on the legislation under which it was established.



CAB's seizure of suspected criminal proceeds and the imposition of tax demands has been based on the simple reversal of the burden of proof. The onus is now on the plaintiff to prove their assets have been acquired legally. Once an application has been made to the higher courts it is up to a judge to decide if the action taken by CAB in terms of seizures and arrests is lawful.



Despite the fact that it could never pin a conviction for robbery on Hutch, it is another huge sum gathered for the State directly attributable to the robust investigative activities of CAB.



It has had a number of spectacular successes in the battle to seize the proceeds of crime since being established in the wake of the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin.



CAB has seized cash and property worth £13 million and that doesn't include a significant cache of firearms and narcotics. It has also played a role in the imprisonment of some 60 senior underworld figures. More than 400 searches have been conducted, more than 200 people arrested and £1.5 million in cash seized.



More than 100 firearms have been confiscated, as well as drugs with a street value of £600,000, numerous vehicles and other assets.



CAB is now seen as a model for other countries. Police officers from a number of other countries have visited the bureau's headquarters to see how CAB has managed to curtail the activities of many of Ireland most notorious criminals.



The activities of CAB has also led to the exile of some of the most ruthless drug dealers including Derek Dunne, the 33-year-old former League of Ireland footballer who was shot dead outside his apartment in Amsterdam a few weeks ago.



Just like Benjamin Franklin said: There are only two things certain in life death and taxes.



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