The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
has agreed to the following Report: -
THE FINANCING OF TERRORISM IN NORTHERN
INTERIM REPORT ON THE PROCEEDS OF CRIME
1. The nature of paramilitary activity in Northern
Ireland is changing. An unfortunate consequence of the peace process
is that paramilitaries appear to be turning, increasingly, to
organised crime to prolong their organisations' existence and
influence within the community. Money is a source of power, whether
it is used to finance terror campaigns, or to provide an individual
with an illegitimate income. We decided in July 2001 that the
financing of terrorism in Northern Ireland should be our first
major inquiry of this Parliament. We began a programme of informal
briefings and formal evidence in December 2001, and hope to report
our conclusions to the House after the Easter Recess.
2. Through the current Proceeds of Crime Bill the
Government is seeking to establish a new Assets Recovery Agency.
The new Agency will combat the threat to society from paramilitary,
organised crime and other serious crime in Northern Ireland, England
and Wales, by the confiscation of criminal assets.
3. We have recently returned from a visit to the
Republic of Ireland, which has had a similar agency - known as
the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) - in operation since 1996. Its
staff include officers of the police force An Garda Síochána,
Customs officers, tax inspectors, social security officials, professional
lawyers and forensic accountants.
4. In the past five years the Bureau has been very
successful. It has recovered IR£21 million of assets through
proceeds of crime actions; has made additional social welfare
savings of IR£1.25 million; and to date has collected IR£28
million out of a total IR£56 million demanded as tax payable
on criminal assets. It sets a high standard for the Assets Recovery
Agency to aim for. We were told that, in addition to the material
successes of the CAB, there were significant intangible benefits
from the Bureau's work in the psychological effect of such actions
on criminals who had previously considered themselves invulnerable.
5. While we shall report our findings more fully
when we have completed our programme of evidence, we believe that
there is one particular issue which we should draw to the attention
of the House before it completes consideration of the Proceeds
of Crime Bill, and which we are also anxious should be before
the House of Lords when it comes to consider the Bill.
6. The Republic of Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau
deals with sophisticated and dangerous criminals, some of whom
have paramilitary connections. In a number of cases these individuals,
prior to the establishment of the Bureau, had evaded the law enforcement
agencies by verbal and physical intimidation of both witnesses
and officials. We were told that on occasion extreme violence
had been used. Officers working for the Bureau are dealing with
cases which it would frequently be difficult to pursue through
other means without exposing staff to considerable personal risk.
7. The CAB is able to pursue these individuals both
safely and effectively because its civilian personnel are protected
by statutory anonymity. The Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996 provides
for officials to be vouched for by a member of the Garda rather
than disclosing any warrant of appointment while engaged in a
search or other activities; for the identity of the official to
be disclosed only to the judge during court proceedings; and for
the name of the Bureau to be substituted for the individual officer's
name in certain correspondence.
Disclosure of the identity of members, or former members, of staff,
or of their families, is punishable by up to three years' imprisonment.
8. During our visit to the Republic of Ireland both
officials of the CAB and of the Department of Justice, Equality
and Law Reform stressed the importance of this protection for
staff. It does not appear from the face of the Proceeds of Crime
Bill that similar protection is being provided for staff of the
Assets Recovery Agency, although the nature of its work will be
the same. We urge the Government to consider the case for amendment
of the Proceeds of Crime Bill, to provide statutory anonymity
for staff of the new Assets Recovery Agency, and for staff with
analogous responsibilities in Scotland.
1 Some of the powers to be granted to the Director
of the Assets Recovery Agency in Northern Ireland, England and
Wales will be exercised in Scotland by the Scottish Ministers. Back
Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996 s10 Back
Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996 s11 Back