White-collar crime - CAB a model for fighting criminals

The Criminal Asset Bureau has been a great success, but the challenges continue to grow.

Det Chief Supt Eugene Corcoran, the head of CAB, has warned that crime bosses are using legitimate businesspeople to launder their dirty money.

These people are “playing a dangerous game”, according to Chief Supt Corcoran, because they could come under dangerous pressure if and when they try to end the relationship.

Many people have probably found they must go through irritating procedures when trying to open an account in a bank or the post office. The procedures are really a minor inconvenience in the fight against crime.

CAB has found that the most useful person to the criminals is a sole trader or small businessperson who gets into financial difficulties and offers his or her bank account to facilitate even one transaction. People should realise that a whole new climate developed in relation to such matters in the wake of the Jun 1996 murder of journalist Veronica Guerin.

At the time there were real dangers that criminals were becoming role models for youngsters. Many criminals had become fabulously wealthy and were being depicted as virtually untouchable to the authorities.

The Guerin murder provoked intense public revulsion and a demand for government action. “The sad awful reality is that these people feel that they can do this without any answerability on their part,” justice minister Nora Owen admitted at the time.

Shortly afterwards, a US network released a clip of John Gilligan and two others drinking and sunning themselves on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. “Here’s one for Veronica Guerin,” one of them toasted. “Yeah,” another replied. “Crime doesn’t pay.” They all laughed, but they’re not doing so now.

The Oireachtas enacted the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and the Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996 so that the government could seize assets purchased with money obtained through crime. CAB, which has many powers normally given to the gardaí, is an independent bureau with a staff appointed by the justice minister and headed by a chief superintendent appointed by the Garda commissioner.

Between 1996 and 2011, CAB secured final asset confiscation orders worth €54m and tax payments of €137m, as well as social welfare savings of more than €6m from serious criminals who were claiming welfare payments. But it has been a long road.

CAB went to the courts in 1997 to seize Gilligan’s assets, including the Jessbrook Equestrian Centre in Kildare, valued at about €18m. Although those were purchased and developed through criminal profits, CAB was only able to secure an order from the Supreme Court last November allowing for seizure of the facility.

James Hamilton, the former DPP, yesterday warned it would be “foolish” for the Government to proceed with an Oireachtas banking inquiry before the criminal trials proceed. Surely CAB provides a model that should be developed to ensure proper procedures are in place to tackle white-collar crime like the banking scandals.

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