By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Criminal Assets Bureau has seized more than euro 25 million suspected of being the proceeds of crime in the last seven years under interim and final restraint orders, according to its 2001 annual report, which was released Friday.
The secretive unit has also collected more than euro 36 million in taxes and interest on unexplained income and has demanded a further euro 20 million.
It has also saved the State more than euro 1.2 million in social welfare payments.
Justice Minister Michael McDowell said the success of the CAB underscored the CAB’s “key role” in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.
“The Bureau will continue to prevent those involved in the drugs trade, and in other forms of serious crime, from enjoying the proceeds of their illegal activity,” he said.
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The 40-strong squad of police, tax officials and social welfare inspectors was set up in 1996 to target drug barons.
The move followed the murder of investigative journalist Veronica Guerin by a crime gang she was writing about.
It has since been expanded to deal with other criminal activity, including living off immoral earnings, receiving stolen goods, white-collar crime and tax fraud.
A number of international police forces have visited Ireland to study its operations.
The Proceeds of Crime law, under which the CAB operates, uses civil legal standards of proof — where the court decides on the balance of probabilities.
In criminal cases, police have to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Under the law, the CAB first applies to the High Court for an interim order to seize cash or assets. Within 21 days it has to seek a final order, which, if granted, freezes the specified property.
Last year, interim seizure orders were granted to the value of euro 3 million and final orders for euro 2 million.
Taxes and interest demanded were in excess of euro 8.3 million with more than euro 23.5 million collected.
The squad has played a pivotal role in breaking the stranglehold of major crime bosses by seizing their homes, cars, yachts and even their wives’ jewelry. Many fled abroad.
The Irish government is planning a similarly comprised squad, expected to be called the Corruption Assets Bureau, to target crooked politicians, public servants and businessmen.
It is proposed that the law setting up the squad will empower a senior Garda officer — acting as an officer of the new squad — to form an opinion based in whole or in part on based on the findings of the judicial tribunals currently investigating allegations of corruption.
If a tribunal reports that, in its opinion, people received or gave corrupt payments, or received benefits as a result of corrupt practices in which they participated, the police officer can go to the High Court, express the same opinion, and seek freezing orders on assets.
The court can accept such evidence as constituting proof beyond reasonable doubt.
It is also proposed to give the court power to appoint inspectors to investigate the affairs of a person or company.
The inspectors’ task would be to trace assets corruptly received or assets whose value was corruptly enhanced through purchases and sales.