Money-laundering racket probe continues

Forensic officers are carrying out tests on money found in Dublin and Belfast today to see if it is linked to the Northern Bank robbery last month.

Forensic officers are carrying out tests on money found in Dublin and Belfast today to see if it is linked to the Northern Bank robbery last month.

Some €3m was seized in searches across the country in a massive garda money-laundering investigation, while cash which may be linked to the Northern Bank robbery was found at a sports complex used by police in Belfast.

In one operation, 17 sackfuls of cash were removed from the house of a leading Cork businessman but police on both sides of the border were still unable to confirm if any of the €3m haul in euro and sterling notes is part of the £26.5m (€38m) stolen from the Northern Bank in Belfast just before Christmas.

Further searches were planned across Ireland as part of the cross-border inquiry that has prompted new allegations of Sinn Féin involvement in criminality.

Eight people have so far been arrested in connection with the investigation. Most have since been released and one appeared before a Special Criminal Court yesterday charged with membership of an illegal organisation.

A man and a woman, arrested in a house in the Farran area of Cork yesterday are still being questioned.

Another man was arrested in Cork last night after Gardaí received a tip-off that a man was burning sterling bank notes. They will decide this morning whether to charge or release him.

Don Bullman, a chef from Cork, was charged with IRA membership after nearly €100,000 was allegedly discovered stuffed into a washing-up powder box in a Jeep.

Two men from Derry who were arrested with Bullman were released pending a report being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Former Sinn Féin councillor Tom Hanlon walked free from a garda station in Cork late last night after his questioning in relation to the money-laundering scam had caused a political storm in which unionists called on the Irish and British governments to exclude Sinn Féin from efforts to revive devolution.

Computers and dozens of documents were seized in a series of raids and searches on homes and properties in Derry, Dublin, Cork, Dundalk, Co Louth and Co Offaly.

Meanwhile, former trade union leader Phil Flynn has resigned as chairman of the Government's decentralisation committee and as chairman of the Bank of Scotland in Ireland, after admitting that he recently travelled to Bulgaria with the Cork businessman at the centre of the inquiry.

Mr Flynn, who also resigned his position as a board member of the VHI, has denied any wrongdoing.

He has confirmed that he was a non-executive director of a Cork-based company which is at the centre of the money-laundering investigation.

In the latest development, Belfast detectives were called to the Newforge Country Club sports complex after money was found there. With officers on both side of the border involved in a huge operation to smash the money racket, police were cautious about the timing of the find.

A PSNI spokeswoman said: “Initial checks would suggest this incident is an effort to distract police investigating the Northern Bank robbery and also to divert attention away from events elsewhere over the last two days.

“Nonetheless, police are taking the find seriously, and the material received will be examined to see whether it will lead the investigating team back to those who committed the robbery.”

Even though police stressed that the complex does not form part of their estate, it is heavily used by the force for sporting events and social occasions.

Since the inquiry by more than 100 detectives began, The Gardaí and the PSNI have refused to confirm a link between the seized cash and the December 20 Northern Bank raid.

Despite both governments backing the assessment by police chiefs that the IRA carried out the record-breaking robbery, Sinn Féin and the Provisionals have continued to deny any IRA involvement.

Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy confirmed his officers were investigating IRA links to the money-laundering operation.

Minister for Justice Michael McDowell said the garda investigation had been a major effort in overcoming the threat to Irish democracy posed by the money-laundering operation.

“The Provisional movement is a colossal criminal machine laundering huge sums of money,” he said. “Their mask has now slipped. Their balaclavas have come off.”

Although police chiefs said the IRA was behind the money-laundering operation, An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern insisted that Sinn Féin would not be excluded from the peace process.

“We had 30 years of exclusion in Northern Ireland and all we ended up with was thousands of people killed and maimed,” he said.

Asked if he felt justified in blaming the Northern Bank robbery on the IRA and claiming Sinn Féin had prior knowledge, Mr Ahern said: “I wouldn’t have said what I said if I hadn’t been given the advice I was given.”

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who is preparing to return to Ireland from Spain, called on people to reserve judgment on the latest developments until all the facts had emerged.

“I have asked for a full report from our party head office, so I can deal with this when I return,” he said.

“I think people have to be very measured.”

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