By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — New legislation to seize cash stashes that have lain dormant for more than 15 years is being prepared for Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy.
Money being held by banks, building societies, insurance companies and the post office will be used for charitable or community purposes by the government.
No estimates have been given by the government of how many millions are being held in such accounts, but it is thought to be in the region of £150 million.
The move follows a recommendation arising from last year’s investigation of the country’s biggest tax scandal — the multi-million DIRT tax evasion involving financial institutions — by the Oireachtas watchdog body, the Pubic Accounts Committee.
Draft legal proposals approved by McCreevy follow months of investigation by Attorney General Michael McDowell amid concerns that any formula adopted could be open to legal challenge.
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The new law will oblige the financial institutions to take "reasonable steps" to locate the owners of the funds and repay them before seizure. Owners who turn up later can also claim a refund.
Government figures show about 1.4 million bank accounts have been dormant for five years or more or about one account for every two adults in the country.
The legislation will continue to protect the right to privacy of individuals who have held the accounts.
A board of trustees will be nominated by McCreevy and Social Welfare Minister Dermot Ahern to disburse seized funds and the money will be managed by the National Treasury Management Agency.
It is also proposed that the 1965 State Property Act will be amended to allow funds held in the Intestate Estates Fund to be transferred to the now dormant accounts fund.
"In order to avoid a clash with the launch of the euro on Jan. 1 2002, the scheme will come into operation on April 1, 2002," McCreevy said.
By April 1, 2003, the financial institutions will have to hand over cash from accounts certified as dormant. Thereafter, funds will have to be handled over every year as they reach the 15-year limit without "customer-initiated transactions."