By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Criminal Assets Bureau, the so-called Untouchables squad set up to help break the stranglehold of Ireland’s crime bosses after the June 1996 murder of crime reporter Veronica Guerin froze, has been a multi-million-pound success story, according to its first report.
The highly secret bureau, whose members enjoy anonymity under the legislation setting it up — is a squad of 43 gardai, lawyers, revenue inspectors and social welfare officials specializing in hitting criminals where it hurts — their pockets.
It has targeted the money of drug smugglers and criminals and their property and others assets both in Ireland and abroad.
Only two members of the squad can be named by the media — the bureau’s legal officer, former Cork State Solicitor Barry Galvin, and the head of the bureau, Garda Chief Supt. Fachtna Murphy.
Operations are given code names and the bureau uses a variety of methods, ranging from lengthy surveillance to cross-checking though state and banking records, to track down attempts to launder cash and hide it abroad or under false names.
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The gang bosses with lavish lifestyles and no apparent income to support them — some even turning up weekly at dole offices for their social welfare check while owning several houses — have seen their crime empires vanish as the CAB confiscation orders swallowed them up.
The bureau seized and froze cash, bank and building society accounts, houses, animals, cars, businesses and boats belonging to 35 suspects during the year.
“The CAB has been pivotal in the fight against crime,” a senior Garda source said. “These people thought they were above the law, but they have seen the security of the money they have saved and front businesses they have set up melting away.”
According to a report laid before the Oireachtas by Justice Minister John O’Donoghue, last year the CAB obtained 12 interim orders in respect of assets valued at _2,334,680 under the Proceeds of Crime Act and nine interlocutory orders in respect of assets valued at _1,496,180.
Tax and interest of _5,210,687 was demanded and social welfare determinations and savings amounted to _419,387, the report states.
O’Donoghue said the CAB played a key role and pledged “there will be no let up in the bureau’s activities in its unrelenting pursuit of the so-called crime godfathers.”
The success of the bureau has attracted a lot of interest from police forces abroad and it is understood its activities will be further strengthened with new legislation to amend the 1996 Act currently being drafted by the Department of Justice.
Criminals have been unable to hit back at the bureau members by threatening them or their families, since they don’t know their identities. The elite squad has worn balaclava headgear on some seizure operations.
The bureau plays a similar role to the Untouchables squad set up by the American FBI in the 1920s under Elliot Ness that eventually led to the jailing of Chicago prohibition crime boss Al Capone on tax-evasion charges.
The bureau now has a budget of _4 million and the minister said “significant” additional resources have been placed at its disposal.
This year, it presented a High Court-backed tax bill to convicted north inner city heroin dealer Tony “King Rat” Felloni of almost _274,000. The assets of his family were also frozen.
It also filed a tax demand against a Cork couple for over _3 million.
The constitutionality of the wide-ranging powers of the bureau were unsuccessfully challenged in the High Court by John Gilligan — currently facing extradition from Britain on a series of warrants.