The Men from the Bureau
Since its foundation, the Criminal Assets Bureau has confiscated nearly £20m from the proceeds of organised crime. Jerome Reilly reports on the most secretive organisation in the State
Agrubby £5m fortune is stacked up in the corner of bank vaults around the country cash that can't be withdrawn, spent, invested or moved.
It's dirty money, some of it tainted with heroin, ecstasy and cocaine the ill gotten gains of a malevolent trade which has shattered hundreds of lives.
All of this money is suspected of being the proceeds of criminal activity and so has been placed in quarantine for seven years deep frozen by the courts at the behest of the Criminal Assets Bureau.
By the end of that period, unless the holders of those accounts can prove that the money was earned legitimately, it will then become the property of the State, a reasonably significant boost to the Exchequer.
The Criminal Assets Bureau have also issued tax demands for at least £11.6m on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners as well as ordering the repayment of well over £600,000 in allegedly fraudulent Social Welfare payments.
CAB officers have also seized property, cars and even ships worth £5m with dozens more cases currently being lined up.
Yet the CAB remains one of the most secretive organisations in the State, shrouded in a cloak of invisibility and, in the current climate, impervious to criticism.
Only the two senior men in the organisation can be publicly named, Chief Supt Fachtna Murphy and CAB's Chief Legal Officer, Barry Galvin.
To identify any of the other gardai, lawyers and revenue and social welfare officials who occupy the suite of second floor offices at Harcourt Square carries the risk of imprisonment.
When officers appear in court they are not named and outline their evidence from behind a screen their faces hidden from everyone except the presiding judge.
That anonymity, just one of the sweeping powers bestowed on the ``untouchables'' in 1996, is considered essential, especially when proceedings are taken against the major criminal bosses.
Those successes in curtailing the activities of the crime barons have been astonishing.
From a standing start in 1996, when legislation was rushed through following the murder of Veronica Guerin and Det Garda Jerry McCabe, CAB have hit hard and fast, armed with no more than calculators and legal powers which put the emphasis on individuals to prove their innocence rather than on the State to prove their guilt.
Under the Proceeds of Crime Act, the CAB have the right to seize the assets of alleged criminals before they have been convicted of any crime.
The normal criminal burdens of proof have been discarded. Instead a much lower civil burden of proof is all that is required.
Hearsay evidence from members of the CAB that money has been accumulated as a result of criminal activity is also routinely accepted by the courts and is one of the reasons that the CAB can boast a 95pc success rate.
Any assets seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau are held by Galvin, who effectively becomes Receiver, and then sold at public auction.
The proceeds from the auctions are also held for seven years, a period designed to give innocent victims a chance to prove the goods and property were not bought from the proceeds of criminal activities.
A further piece of legislation, the Disclosure of Information for Taxation and Other Purposes Act, is another useful addition to the CAB armoury.
This gathered a raft of different regulations and laws, covering revenue and social welfare, into one cohesive mass to allow greater co-operation between the different agencies who formerly worked in isolation.
For example, the Revenue Commissioners now have legislative backing to disclose vital information to the gardai. It means that questionable assets can be identified and the appropriate measures taken to ``freeze, seize, restrain and confiscate''.
However, in the next few months the CAB will extend its operations to assist the new Office of Corporate Enforcement which will attempt to clampdown on white collar crime.
The new agency, with the power to remove rogue company directors, will have its own dedicated team of detectives, lawyers and accountants, but the expertise of the National Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the CAB will also be useful additions to the armoury.
The CAB has already moved into the areas of alleged white collar crime.
Yesterday the CAB clashed with the Flood Tribunal following the bureau's refusal to hand over documents taken by their investigators following the arrest of former assistant city and county manager George Redmond at Dublin airport on February 19th.
The powers enjoyed by CAB are the envy of other police forces and a steady stream of law enforcement officers from across Europe are regularly escorted to see the operation at first hand.
With its new role assisting the clampdown on white collar crime as well as a considerable amount of work still to be done in finally breaking the back of organised crime, the CAB has plenty of work still on file to keep it going well into the millennium.