Agency probes IRA links to €44m property empire

ABOUT 250 properties associated with two Manchester-based businessmen were yesterday being investigated by Assets Recovery Agency officials in the North as part of a probe into IRA links.

The agency confirmed that a number of searches had been conducted in Manchester involving a £30 million (€44m) property portfolio that had been acquired over a period of time.

The searches were carried out on domestic and business properties linked with the two businessmen. The agency is believed to have been investigating the assets of alleged IRA chief-of-staff Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy.

A statement said: “The agency has so far identified approximately 250 properties held by both persons and a number of property management companies.

“The equity in the properties appears to be in the region of £9m.”

The move by the agency followed a successful application to the High Court in London for search and seizure warrants and a disclosure order.

The ARA statement said that during the searches large amounts of documentation were seized by their investigators.

“The agency has also served disclosure notices permitting compulsory questioning by financial investigators and a handover of legal and other documentation. At this stage no further comment can be made on this case.”

It is understood that Mr Murphy, a South Armagh farmer, has been under investigation by the Criminal Assets Bureau. He came to prominence in 1998 after he sued the Sunday Times newspaper unsuccessfully in an 11-year legal battle over claims that he was involved in IRA bombing campaigns in Britain.

He has a farm at Hackballscross, which straddles the border between the North and the Republic.

It is understood the properties under investigation include flats, a house and a large site in Stretford and a house in Sale.

One property believed to be linked to the investigation was raided this morning on Britannia Road in Sale, South Manchester.

The offices of Dermot Craven Developments Ltd and the Craven Group property companies were visited by police in riot gear at 8am, according to witnesses.

The modest two-storey office building is the headquarters of Craven Group, a well-known local firm in South Manchester. The firm also has a letting shop in Sale and the business includes property sales, refurbishments and investment.

Builder Peter Barrie was working on a site across the road from the offices and saw police arrive.

He said: “An unmarked police car came down the road first and officers in blue riot uniforms got out.

“They sort of looked around and surrounded the area. As they got out, a couple more police vans came down the road with more officers.

"I would say there was about 25 to 30 in riot gear. The first lot pressed the buzzer on the office door, someone answered and two officers went inside. I haven’t seen them take anything away yet.

“There is always a guy who drives a red Ferrari speeding up and down the road and going in there.

“There are always Porsches and other big motors in the car park.

“There’s a lot of big Irish lads go in there.

“About three days ago, I heard them singing some Irish songs, I think it was Gaelic, a big group of them, they were all merry.”

Zohaib Qaiser, aged 21, a student who lives across the road, added: “There are always big cars parked outside. I just got the impression they were rich people.

“Cars would arrive at all times, even very late at night.”

Police were also believed to be at another property in the wealthy village of Bowdon, Cheshire.

According to neighbours, police also visited the home of Manchester businessman Dermot Craven.

At about 11am, officers arrived at the substantial red brick detached Victorian house in the exclusive village of Bowden.

The £2m (€2.9m) gated mansion, surrounded by holly bushes and trees, has security cameras monitoring front and back doors. Mr Craven and his wife, Dawn, who have three children of primary school age, were seen at the property.

A neighbour, who did not want to be named, said: “I saw a police van and cars outside the house this morning.

“Dermot was outside talking to police officers.

“All I know is he’s Irish and runs a scaffolding firm.”

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