Bureau chief highlights the importance of anonymity for its staff
THE State agency tasked with seizing the ill-gotten gains of the country’s criminals over the past quarter-century is now investigating more targets than ever before.
And while the criminal landscape has changed, the Criminal Assets Bureau’s (Cab) current chief believes that the anonymity of staff is as important as ever for it to function successfully.
Yesterday marked 25 years since the unit was established by then Justice Minister Nora Owen following a dark month in Irish history.
Within the space of three weeks in June, Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and journalist Veronica Guerin were shot dead in separate gun attacks which shocked the nation.
Their callous murders led to the Government introducing legislation that brought about the Cab and changed how the State tackled organised crime.
In its first year, the Bureau had 31 staff and a budget the equivalent of €1m, while it brought six criminal assets cases before the High Court.
Among these were proceedings against drug trafficker John Gilligan, whose gang was suspected of carrying out the assassination of Ms Guerin.
His legal battle with the Cab would drag out through the courts, at the tax payer’s expense, and only last March was the latest ruling given against Gilligan at the European courts.
In the intervening years, the unit’s workload has increased significantly, as have the people it is targeting.
While drug traffickers still make up the majority of cases, the long list of targets now includes burglars, thieves, fraudsters, money launderers and human traffickers.
Det Chief Supt Mick Gubbins, head of the Cab, said criminals are also more focused on designer items while trends are shifting towards cryptocurrency.
"I suppose more recently it's the watches, it's the jewellery, the high value they have of those. It's the cars that they drive.
"It's the extensions and renovations and upgrades that they do to their houses.
"We've seen unusual items like gyroplanes, they've also invested in blood stock and agri-stock over the years as well.
"Mainly a lot of it is around property and now some cryptocurrency, and I expect to see more of that."
The significant increase in resources provided to the Cab emphasises the demand for its expertise since its inception.
Its staff has more than tripled, its budget has increased nine-fold to €9.6m, and last year it brought 31 proceeds of crime cases before the courts.
It is also currently investigating the most targets it has ever had, a total of 1,851 who are living both nationally and internationally.
While the targets have changed, the dangers associated with the work hasn’t.
Det Chief Supt Gubbins believes the statutory anonymity attached to certain members of the Bureau is a key aspect of how they operate.
“It’s very important to protect those people and I spoke about those men and women who anonymously for the last 25 years have gone about their job,” he said.
“We have to protect those people, and to take [that] away now at the risk that something may happen is unfair to them and the people that would come in the future..
“I would be in favour of anonymity, it’s really important to the structure and working of the Criminal Assets Bureau.”
The Justice Minister Heather Humphreys yesterday described the Bureau as “one of the great success stories of Irish law enforcement” and a “world leader” in asset investigation, tracing and forfeiture.
The work of the unit, she said, has also succeeded in driving gang leaders abroad, leaving only their accomplices to run the day-to-day activities of the gang.
The most recent and high-profile example of this is the Kinahan crime gang, whose associates were the target of one of the Cab’s biggest operations in 2016.
In total, €1.4m worth of assets were seized from the Byrne organised crime group, a Dublin branch of the cartel.
Following that major investigation, the mob’s most senior members, Liam Byrne and Sean McGovern, fled abroad, leaving the running of their drug enterprise to younger associates.
The actions of criminals also impact on their own communities, which the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said can happen through intimidation, violence and anti-social behaviour.
"Those involved in profiting from crime ravage the communities that they are embedded in,” he said, describing it as a “very rare fear”.
Over 25 years, the Bureau has sought to disrupt and prevent this by targeting those involved, with gardaí saying their fight against those attempting to reap the proceeds of their criminality will not relent.