Terror finance unit only has two staff

There has been one terrorist financing prosecution to date: Irishman Hassan Bal was convicted last July of sending funds to IS. Illustration by Alwyn Gillespie

A specialist Garda unit tasked with assessing intelligence on the financing of terrorism only has two members attached to it, despite external calls on the State to boost its resources and “more actively” pursue prosecutions.

The Terrorist Financing Intelligence Unit receives around 880 suspicious transaction reports (STRs) with potential links to international terrorism on average per year.

The unit sends about 95 reports every year to Garda Security and Intelligence (S&I) for investigation.

The finance unit is tasked with examining referrals regarding financial transactions potentially relating to both domestic (such as republican) and international (such as jihadist) terrorism.

The section is part of the Financial Intelligence Unit within the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau.

The Irish Examiner understands that the strength of the overall finance unit stands at 11 staff, including two gardaí attached to the terror unit.

This has not changed since an analysis of Ireland’s record on combating money-laundering and terrorist financing was conducted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which published its 200-page report in September 2017.

That intergovernmental body said Ireland “should allocate greater additional resources” to both the overall and terror financial units and said concerns it had previously raised about their resourcing “persist”.

The body said it had been reassured in its visits that there was a priority to hire further garda analysts and financial analysis expertise.

The Irish Examiner understands that despite competitions which saw additional staff going into the National Economic Crime Bureau, that office and the Financial Intelligence Unit have lost an equal number of gardaí through promotions, transfers, and retirements.

Official figures show:

  • 4,419 STRs with potential links to international terrorism were sent to the terror unit between 2012 and 2016, up from 683 to 948;
  • 477 reports submitted by the terror unit to S&I for investigation, rising from 76 in 2012 to 90 in 2016;
  • 236 of these reports related to ‘active targets’, up from 24 in 2012 to 56 in 2016.

The Financial Intelligence Unit as a whole has seen a sharp rise in total STRs referred to it, rising from 12,390 in 2012 to 21,682 in 2016.

The FATF report said international terrorism referrals were the third-highest category of STRs, and that new technology would streamline the process.

It said the high numbers of STRs linked to international terrorism “may overburden” the terror unit, with “too many STRs” to properly analyse for investigators or intelligence.

The terror unit reports are sent to S&I, which in turn add it to its own intelligence, before referring cases to the Special Detective Unit for investigation.

The FATF report criticised the State for the low number of prosecutions for terrorist financing, saying authorities had indicated that the threshold of evidence to prove it was “too high” to pursue prosecutions.

There has been one terrorist financing prosecution to date: Irishman Hassan Bal was convicted last July of sending funds to IS.

The FATF report said the lack of terrorist financing prosecutions was “not consistent with Ireland’s risk profile”.

It said: “Ireland should more actively pursue TF [terrorist financing] prosecutions in line with its risk profile, with a view to securing TF convictions."

It is understood the Special Detective Unit hopes to pursue a number of prosecutions this year.

It is thought Garda HQ is considering running a competition to increase staffing at the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, which would boost the resources of the Financial Intelligence Unit and the Terrorist Financing Intelligence Unit.

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