By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Irish Justice Minister John O’Donoghue has warned that anyone who stores paramilitary arms risks having their assets seized as well as receiving a long prison sentence.
His uncompromising message came as gárdaí continued operations against republican dissidents in the so-called Real IRA, the self-styled Continuity IRA, and elements of the INLA.
"We intend to implement the laws which were enacted after Omagh and anybody who thinks that he can have an arms dump on his land and get away with just a term of imprisonment is badly mistaken," O’Donoghue warned. "We will go after the assets as well."
Since the current crackdown of dissidents began last month, gárdaí have questioned dozens of suspects and a number have been charged in the Special Criminal Court after a training dugout was raided and caches of arms and explosives were discovered.
Speaking at an international conference on "identifying, tracing and seizing he proceeds of criminal activity," O’Donoghue said those who believed they could subjugate the will of the vast majority of the Irish people "should think again."
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He said the amended Offenses Against the State Act following the Omagh bombing in August 1998, in which 29 people were killed, gave powers to seize assets like farms and other premises if their owners conspired to store arms.
O’Donoghue also called for other countries to enact similar legislation to the 1996 Proceeds of Crime Act so criminals can be targeted internationally.
Under the Act, the standard of proof required is a civil one, which means that a court must only be satisfied that the assets are, on the balance of probabilities, the proceeds of crime. The defendant does not have to have been convicted of a criminal offense.
He said the Criminal Assets Bureau, the highly secretive squad that tracks down assets, had been set up to fight criminals by targeting their booty.
"The CAB successes have rammed home to these criminals gangs that we will not tolerate their illegal activities which leave a trail of human misery," O’Donoghue said. "Our efforts will come to nothing if we do not strike at the heart of the monster, namely the financial base of these evil groups," he said.