40,000 tip-offs on dirty money offences

Almost 40,000 cases of suspected money-laundering were reported to gardaí in three years, but just 10 people were convicted of the crime during the same period.

It has also emerged that assets in two Irish-based investment funds worth $180m (€140m) have been frozen because of suspected links to money-laundering.

Figures from the Justice Department’s anti-money-laundering compliance unit show that, between 2009 and 2011, 38,984 suspicious transactions were reported. The majority (80%) of all reports relate to domestic tax and social welfare issues.

Sixteen deals were flagged by the Law Society in 2011 and all but one are still being investigated.

In 2011, 11,168 transactions were flagged and, of those, 5,708 are still under investigation.

During the same year, there were just four charges brought against people — six less than the previous year. At the same time, four convictions were linked to laundering investigations.

a report

Separate to criminal prosecutions, gardaí seized €1m in property and Revenue confiscated another €1.4m.

This was in addition to $180m, invested in two Irish-based funds, which has been frozen under the Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Act 2010.

The Justice Department did not provide details on the nature and background to these funds.

The anti-money-laundering compliance unit acknowledged the “sharp discrepancy” between the volume of complaints and the subsequent convictions, and it said a number of factors were to blame.

The first was that, in most years, in excess of 75% of cases were dealt with by Revenue because they were not linked tax issues or social welfare.

Secondly it said, unlike in other countries, the Director of Public Prosecutions preferred to chase criminals for their original crime rather than the act of washing the cash afterwards.

This was blamed on an adverse Appeal Court judgment in 2002 and the pre-2010 legislative regime.

The compliance unit’s report said more than 80% of tip-offs in 2011 related to tax offences.

However, the Revenue Commissioner’s statistics show a similarly low conviction rate over a long period of time.

Since 2003, it has received almost 98,000 tip-offs and these have led to 30 criminal prosecutions.

The Revenue complaints have brought in €70m in tax, with settlements ranging from €523 to €3.5m.

Yet, despite a low level of convictions, the country has just been removed from a seven-year international probationary period imposed on it because of a previously lax legislative regime.

The OECD’s Financial Action Task Force said last month’s amendment bill was enough to recommend the cessation of twice-yearly reviews.

The FATF said the bill, on top of others passed in 2010, greatly improved the situation, even though it said the country was still not fully compliant with international standards.

The upgrading of Ireland’s status came in the aftermath of a separate report that revealed that convictions for laundering offences remained low.

In numbers

*38,984 suspicious transactions were reported to gardaí in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

*10 people have been convicted of laundering offences in the same period.

*51% of suspicious transactions reported to gardaí in 2011 are still under investigation.

*98,000 suspicious transactions reported to Revenue since 2003.

*30 of convictions were the result of reports.

*370 inspections were carried out by the anti-money laundering compliance unit in 2011.

*50 of the compliance unit’s inspections result in reports to gardaí.

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