Crime gang sus­pected of buy­ing up ghost es­tate

CAB smashes bor­der repub­li­can crim­i­nals in­volved in smug­gling of cig­a­rettes and al­co­hol

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - News - Maeve Shee­han

A DIS­SI­DENT repub­li­can crime gang, with a stag­ger­ing €100m cash turnover, is the sus­pected owner of a half­built ghost es­tate close to the bor­der that was snapped up dur­ing the bust.

The empty hous­ing es­tate was iden­ti­fied by the Crim­i­nal As­sets Bureau as part of a port­fo­lio of dis­tressed prop­er­ties which it be­lieves the smug­gling gang has pur­chased over the past seven to eight years.

Se­nior sources said the hous­ing es­tate is “small” and “un­fin­ished” and is close to the bor­der and they believe it was pur­chased with the in­ten­tion of com­plet­ing the de­vel­op­ment be­fore sell­ing on the units for a sig­nif­i­cant profit.

The other prop­er­ties in the gang’s port­fo­lio are be­lieved to in­clude land and de­vel­op­ment sites in bor­der coun­ties, rather than one-off res­i­den­tial homes.

The Crim­i­nal As­sets Bureau, backed up by the Emer­gency Re­sponse Unit, raided eight homes and busi­nesses linked to the gang in early morn­ing raids last week, seiz­ing com­put­ers, mo­bile phones, cash and smug­gling para­pher­na­lia. The CAB is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the gang’s own­er­ship of prop­er­ties with the aim of con­fis­cat­ing the as­sets as the pro­ceeds to crime.

The gang is one of the big­gest op­er­at­ing along the bor­der and is pri­mar­ily in­volved in cig­a­rette and al­co­hol smug­gling. It is led by a 62-year-old con­victed IRA man with a his­tory of smug­gling, and who has ad­dresses in the repub­lic and North­ern Ire­land.

While in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the gang have been con­tin­u­ing for sev­eral years, the scale of its smug­gling op­er­a­tions emerged only re­cently af­ter an­a­lysts ‘cracked’ coded en­tries in a ledger.

The ledger was con­cealed in the hot press of a house linked to an­other gang mem­ber, which CAB raided more than two years ago. The ledger con­tained hun­dreds of ap­par­ently in­de­ci­pher­able en­tries that were even­tu­ally de­coded by foren­sic ac­coun­tants and an­a­lysts.

The fig­ures re­lated to cash trans­ac­tions dat­ing back more than seven years that showed cash move­ments of €100m dur­ing that pe­riod, sources said.

The anal­y­sis re­vealed the “huge scale” of the or­gan­ised crime gang’s op­er­a­tions and the vast sums of money it was deal­ing in, said one source. “Lit­er­ally, the scale of the op­er­a­tions was enor­mous.”

Repub­li­can crime gangs have a his­tory of in­vest­ing the prof­its from rack­e­teer­ing into prop­erty.

Leaked US diplo­matic ca­bles claimed that the IRA used the Celtic Tiger to di­ver­sify into “more so­phis­ti­cated busi­ness en­ter­prises” by buy­ing up prop­er­ties in Lon­don, Dublin and Span­ish re­sorts, turn­ing into “ap­par­ently re­spectable busi­ness­men”. The IRA’s fi­nan­cial em­pire also in­cluded pubs, se­cu­rity firms, taxi com­pa­nies and ho­tels.

The dis­si­dent repub­li­can gang at the cen­tre of last week’s raids is be­lieved to have in­vested cash in post-crash prop­erty de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties rather than res­i­den­tial homes. The in­vest­ments are typ­i­cally bought us­ing a web of front com­pa­nies or in­di­vid­u­als un­con­nected to the gang.

The funds were orig­i­nally gen­er­ated from rob­beries, with the cash then used as “seed cap­i­tal” for fund­ing ship­ments of il­le­gal cig­a­rettes, a vastly prof­itable crime that has cost the Ex­che­quer mil­lions in lost taxes.

The CAB searched six homes and two busi­nesses in Mon­aghan and Ca­van hop­ing to find records of prop­erty trans­ac­tions linked to the gang’s key player, the 62-yearold con­victed IRA man, and his as­so­ciates.

Dozens of records and elec­tronic de­vices seized, the of­fi­cers also dis­cov­ered €10,000 in cash con­cealed in a se­cret com­part­ment, and quan­ti­ties of the erec­tile dys­func­tion drug, Vi­a­gra, that sources said were “too large for per­sonal con­sump­tion”. They also seized cig­a­rette smug­gling para­pher­na­lia — be­lieved to be the gang’s main source of in­come.

The next stage of the CAB’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion will fo­cus on gath­er­ing ev­i­dence to link the prop­er­ties to the gang’s key play­ers, by analysing the doc­u­ments and trans­ac­tion records.

SEIZED: CAB raided homes and busi­nesses in Mon­aghan and found quan­ti­ties of cash, com­put­ers and mo­bile phones

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