CAB cash should stay locally to deal with legacy of criminals

 

The report revealed that CAB has been a lot busier in Roscommon and Longford than elsewhere in the Garda divisions along the west coast

The annual review of the operations of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) made for compulsory reading recently. In that review, the senior Gardai in charge of this organisation revealed the extraordinary sort of riches and material wealth they are able to take away from individuals and gangs who are believed to have assembled dozens of lucrative operations from the proceeds of crime around the country.

This is seriously big business. The money seized is the proceeds of activities like money laundering, tax evasion and social welfare theft. And there’s much more out there. We learned from the review that CAB is actually investigating 66 targets across the Roscommon/Longford Garda division. Nationally, CAB has already lifted an array of ‘goodies’ such as flashy cars, motorbikes, vans, 4x4s and plenty of gold watches, valuable clothing and even a little airplane.

Interestingly, the report revealed that CAB has been a lot busier in Roscommon and Longford than elsewhere in the Garda divisions along the west coast. The number of criminals under investigation is a lot higher here than ‘next door’ in Sligo/Leitrim where there are just 14 targets on CAB’s radar. There are just 5 in Mayo, 37 in Galway and 56 in Cavan/Monaghan – which is right along the border where more criminal cross-county activity might be expected. With Westmeath and Meath now having become a collective suburb of the capital city, I was not surprised that they have 85 ‘nice people’ under the CAB microscope – but one has to wonder why is Roscommon/Longford bucking that midlands and western trend?

The major money being hauled in by CAB is perhaps the statistic that jumped out most in their annual report. It got me thinking about how they run their operations and where the cash actually goes after they lift it. More than €4.2 million was gathered up for the Irish Exchequer in 2020 from the proceeds of crime. I can tell you that the Minister for Finance and his Cabinet colleagues are very happy to see it coming into the kitty.

Investigating this sort of crime is an expensive business. It takes hours and hours of Garda work in the banks and significant undercover activity to establish beyond any doubt who actually owns or bought that flash car or the Swiss gold watch. It can take many more years to get this stuff past the courts and move in and take the dough away from the gangs.

In 37 years of journalism, I have on several occasions seen first-hand the way these CAB operations are conducted. it’s probably the Garda activity in this country that comes closest to the images created on TV by high profile police stings and raids involving sophisticated squads in US, UK and other countries. A few years ago I sat in my car in an estate and watched while ten Gardai/detectives from CAB broke into a home in the midlands – using all force necessary to gain admittance. After about five or ten minutes of playing ‘Mr Nice’ at the front door, while people inside the door hurled abuse and told them their rights, the detectives got a sledge hammer and broke the front window of the house to speed up the search process. The shattering of the glass brought a chorus of howls and boos from the entire street, with lots of people running out in their early-morning attire. I can tell you that the treasure trove of the proceeds of crime taken out of that house was just incredible.

This is the sort of ‘super power’ and urgent remedial action that the public has cried out for over many years. CAB was set up and effectively got its teeth after the terrifying murder of Veronica Guerin. It was intended to tell the ‘big boys’ of Irish crime that they were not above the law – and it has enjoyed some memorable wins over the years.

The Guerin murder was horrific because it was so barefaced. While working on the RTE newsdesk a few years previously, I had actually discussed the possibility of such a lethal attack with the journalist herself. Veronica was a raving mad Manchester United fan. I spent half an hour discussing the trials and tribulations of Alex Ferguson’s team with her in her front room just a few days after she’d received her first warning from the criminal fraternity – by being shot in the leg when she opened her front door.

To be truthful, I came to the opinion that Veronica believed they hadn’t the balls to go any further. Believing they would never actually try to kill her, she saw what had happened as just a shot over the bows, but within a short time the criminal gangs picked her out for assassination on the Naas road in Dublin as she returned from a court hearing (ironically). The outcry at home and abroad led to the formation of CAB – with all its special powers. That development was undoubtedly the very best tribute we, as a nation, could pay to the memory of this fearless journalist, and every time the present-day CAB officers break a front window or drive away with another Porsche on a trailer, I take personal satisfaction in remembering that day I spent with Guerin at her home near Dublin Airport and recall the fun we had chatting about her many trips to Old Trafford. She was a one-off.

The other big element of CAB activities that stood out of that recent review, however, was the fact that out of all the additional monies they seized, CAB also returned €5.4m to the Nigerian government, part of over $700m which was stolen by the former head of state, General Sani Abacha. This loot was obviously sitting in bank accounts here and in homes around the country, and while one imagines there was a strict legal obligation to return it, I hope the cost of the police work that went into all those operations was taken away before the cheque left the country.

I believe that the cash taken by CAB from bank accounts and from under loads of dodgy mattresses around the county and the country should be funnelled back into the operation of youth facilities, community development in disadvantaged areas, and any state co-ordinated scheme that target the rehabilitation of drug offenders.

The Veronica Guerin movie played up this issue in several scenes – showing the poverty and deprivation on the ground in Dublin’s northside, where the drug dealers were making their money – while the drug lords got bigger and bigger. What would be wrong with the money that is being seized by CAB in Roscommon  being reinvested in community development and youth in disadvantaged areas locally? Four or five million euro would go a long way towards dealing with a lack of funding for school classrooms, astro pitches, rehabilitation clinics for drugs and alcohol addicts, counsellors and key support staff and teachers, etc. Most of the time, the people who are behind this organised crime are using and abusing younger minds in their areas, dragging innocent people into a vicious circle. Many people strongly believe that it’s time some of that money stayed locally to help those people rebuild their lives after the big boys have moved on – or gone to jail.

District court judges in this area are very good at applying the same principle when it comes to their poor box donations – people who have broken the law are usually asked to support important projects and charities in key local areas such as youth and disability. The sooner the central Government follows the same principles, the better.