Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. That is the bit that surprised me because, indeed, the evidence there suggests that this might be an area, along with counterfeiting money, where Loyalist paramilitaries might be more engaged than Republican paramilitaries. I had not gauged that the Loyalist paramilitaries were getting that sort of money through this, or indeed through any source of activity. If they are getting millions through counterfeiting, then their resources are significantly higher than the general population believe they are.
  (Mr White) I would say this to the Committee: do not take it that this is money which appears and is handed over to the organisation. Vast sums of money haemorrhage themselves in the process from the criminal activity through to the organisation getting its bits and pieces.

  61. 4x4s and horse boxes?
  (Mr White) Exactly. It is a large amount of money and, again, it varies according to the organisation. Certainly on the Loyalist side, sticky fingers hold on to a fair amount of that. It is also in partnership, quite often, with a criminal group and it is not within the paramilitary structure so there is an immediate split in terms of the proceeds there as well. It is not a direct flow quite often and a good chunk is used to fund the individuals themselves. A good deal of that has been brought about since the arrival of the cease-fire in that those who came out of prison who had engaged themselves and gone to prison and served time for 10, 15 or 20 years came back to terraced houses, and they looked around and saw those who had encouraged them to get themselves engaged in paramilitary activities and the lifestyle they seemed to be starting to live, so some of them now are entirely in this business to create a pension fund for themselves. We are now looking at people who are purchasing property in the South of Ireland and elsewhere overseas as an investment and the only way that they are funding this investment is by drawing down on various criminal enterprises where they can get into partnership with people. There is no tax to be paid on this, this is pure profitability, and the money comes fairly quickly. You cannot go down and lodge it in your mother's bank account but you can invest it in property and you can buy into a business. That is where the money is going and that is where the encouragement is coming for this. But counterfeit goods is such a lucrative business right across the UK.

  62. I assume it is to a fairly high standard?
  (Mr White) Exactly. When we bring in the people in relation to designer clothing they have substantive difficulties themselves in determining whether the Manchester United shirt that is on sale at the market is actually a legitimate brand product—it is not all Levi jeans—and the same thing with the Playstations and videos. If you want the latest Hollywood released film you do not go to the Virgin outlet store, you go to a market stall and within a very short period of time by the use of the Internet and everything else those films are pirated, downloaded and reproduced, perhaps not to the quality that you would wish but if you are only paying a third of the price you are quite happy to take those. The same thing with Playstations. There was a market demand for these things over Christmas for Playstation II and if you wanted the product and could not get it in the shop, quite often you could find it in the market. It is supply and demand that these people live off the back of. The same thing with perfumes and things of that nature with counterfeit money. You are dealing now with high-quality printing machinery being available in relation to the production of bank notes.

  63. I notice a laser jet was being suggested.
  (Mr White) There is such a freeing up in relation to that. Counterfeit goods to the value of over £650,000 were seized from stall holders at Nutts Corner alone. That is 3,000 videos, 11,000 Playstation games, 10,000 music CDs, and 106 pairs of designer sunglasses, would you believe.

  64. Is there anything legitimate sold at Nutts Corner?
  (Mr White) The bread products and cakes are about the only things but, as you appreciate yourself, that is a small market in terms of the acreage that it covers and the through-flow of people will not be vast in our terms but that is flowing from one small market alone.

  65. This is a product that can be fairly easily partnered between Loyalists and Republicans. Do you find much of that?
  (Mr White) I think the simple answer is yes. Politics has no place in business and they have the same philosophy. I think our best example there is the shipment of cigarettes that Customs seized based on police information at the docks at Warrenpoint which in actual fact had been bank-rolled substantively by the Loyalists in terms that they had purchased their £50,000 worth of illegal cigarettes through their IRA colleagues, so partnerships can spring up in the strangest of places where profit is the only motive.

  66. I suppose the cease-fire would encourage that?
  (Mr White) I would think so and in a way the criminal has always been one of our best entrepreneurs and if there is a market at all they will find it. They will not let politics fudge their capacity to get involved. Cigarettes is another indicator where you do not limit yourself to the importation of cigarettes simply to feed one side of the political divide or the other. The feeling is if you can strike a partnership, strike that deal and get on with it. The same thing with smuggling fuel, the deals are done there.

  67. In terms of counterfeit currency there were some figures that were given to us in terms of £206,000 in 2001 for the total value of dead currency. Presumably, all you can do is guess at how much is floating around there. Can you give us any handle on that?
  (Mr White) All I would say is that the figure for the year has gone from 206 to 332 and the money seized from retail outlets in live currency has gone up from £36,000 to £70,000 for the year ending now, so you have a total of £402,000. Over and above, shall we say, the sterling currency, you have counterfeit monies in the form of foreign currency. Certainly US dollars have featured and we do business, as it were, with the US Treasury Department and their investigators as regards the dollar counterfeitcy that goes on in the Province and counterfeitcy in relation to other currencies as well. No doubt the euro will come in. I really could not put a guesstimate on how much money is in circulation. I can only encourage you to have a good look at the bank notes that are recovered. It would certainly defy my ability to distinguish between the counterfeit and the note itself, they are of such quality.

  68. Chairman, it might be worth us looking at the quality of some of these counterfeit products.
  (Mr White) There is an on-going need to try and educate the business community and we are engaged in this with the banks to try and make them more proactive in this area, and as part of the crime prevention area we engage in this focusing, again, on the euro as being the note of interest at this moment in time. It is quite easy for you to be shown the counterfeit products and the quality that is there.

The Rev Martin Smyth

  69. I was just wondering about the counterfeiter with one million blank tapes which suggested that he might have been a musician. Did he sing? Were there any consequences of finding that out? Was anybody brought before the courts or has it just been one of those facts of record?
  (Mr White) We believe from the investigations we have done that we have closed down one of the production outlets that was using those blank disks. There are others in place that we have not yet discovered. Some of them lie outwith our jurisdiction, as you will appreciate, and we have to work with the Garda in this respect.

  70. On the question of the Organised Crime Task Force, was there any investigation done where the tapes went and what money he made from it, and whether it was known if it was being used for counterfeiting and whether he was charged?
  (Mr White) I cannot answer the question whether the importer was charged in that respect, but certainly there are on-going investigations in relation to this. The Organised Crime Task Force itself is more of a strategic body and not one with an investigative remit as such, that befalls ourselves but, as you will appreciate, amongst all the other issues that have to be investigated this is an area that quite often can be overlooked simply because the nature of the criminality here when offset against the more violent crimes that we are investigating is a resource issue, and I do not hide that from the Committee at all.

  Rev Martin Smyth: I appreciate that you do not hide it, and we understand the work that the force has been doing. Going back to your earlier response to me, what is happening impacts on the country at large and it has an impact also on Scotland and England and it is a question that needs to be tackled.

Mr Barnes

  71. Most people in thinking about the way that paramilitaries raise their money, especially from Britain, would probably not think of the sophisticated techniques that we have been discussing, they would think of someone with a gun involved in armed robbery, which itself which might have sophisticated techniques. How important still is armed robbery as a means by which paramilitaries will raise funds? Has the commitment to using that as an avenue changed over time as new techniques have come on board?
  (Mr White) Armed robbery in itself as a criminal act has increased now. Armed robberies which are focused on acquisition of cash, in other words post offices and banks, do not tend to produce what you call big sums of money, you may get £8,000 or £9,000 out of a post office, but most of those robberies are conducted by the criminal fraternity in its own right. If you have a paramilitary structure and you are using your people in that sense, you are exposing them to arrest. If they are using firearms that were heretofore used as part of the on-going paramilitary scene, forensically again you can create a link back to your organisation which might be to your detriment in terms of how you are viewed as being on cease-fire or otherwise, and also it can lead to volunteers being arrested and charged with crimes. So there is a tendency to avoid the cruder end of pointing a gun in somebody's face in a post office or bank. It is not the most productive method. The armed robberies that the paramilitaries would be focused on at the moment would be in relation to containers of goods. We had one incident at the dock side where something in the region of 4.2 million cigarettes were taken in an act of piracy because the container was off-loaded off a ship that was ready for sailing. That in itself would produce something in the region of £1 million/£1.5 million profit. So white goods and shipments of that nature, spirits, alcohol, a bonded delivery en route somewhere, are much more productive in the form of the armed robbery than the traditional bank or post office we would otherwise think of. It minimises also the risk to their personnel and it does not embarrass them as much in relation when the argument arises as to whether they are on cease-fire or not. That is where the focus is, by and large, in the armed robberies. Most armed robberies of post offices, banks and building societies would still be the provenance of the ordinary criminal as such.

  72. Have you a way of assessing what has happened so far as armed robbery that is associated with paramilitary groups is concerned? You have described certain areas like cigarette robbery which they are involved in, but maybe there is still some residual involvement amongst some of the smaller paramilitary organisations that might not have the sophistication. Then, of course, there is the difficult area of mixed groups, groups that have a history of being paramilitary organisations but essentially now are just operating as rather footloose criminal bodies, getting it for themselves rather than what was at one time for the cause. Is there a way of assessing any of this?
  (Mr White) Certainly there are factors about each incident and obviously the intelligence flows we have give indicators as regards it. You have to be careful because sometimes a paramilitary group's name can be thrown around in the process of the crime simply, again, to intimidate the people who have been robbed. In other words, by throwing in the name of the organisation, you can be fairly well assured that you will create that element of fear amongst those relieved of their monies. We are reasonably well able through intelligence flows to indicate which jobs are done by the paramilitaries. The modus operandi and things of that nature sometimes give us a bit of a steer as well. You are quite right, the lesser organised groups such as the INLA, CIRA and RIRA still resort to looking for substantive sums of money. This way they tend to focus in on money that is in transit in substantive amounts—the Post Office doing a delivery run around several post offices—rather than the criminal act of breaking into a post office and getting behind the bandit screen and getting some money that way. They do not rule it out entirely and it is still there within their repertoire, but as an organisational pursuit, which is the way I was answering the question, it is not viewed as a lucrative form of money raising.

  73. It is sometimes argued that civil disorder gives a greater opportunity for armed robbery to take place (it might again be criminal armed robbery) and that moves into those areas. We now have a great deal of civil disorder in Belfast. Is that leading to any increase in armed robberies of Securicor and others? Are you able to do anything?
  (Mr White) The figures for armed robbery are up but that can be anything from the use of a broken bottle or a hammer or anything else to help them carry out the crime. I would not link it in any way to the civil disturbance activities that have been in the north of the city. It has not increased that activity as such. The simple movement of people in the small hours facilitates opportunist groups of young people to engage in the robbery of somebody going to an ATM machine to draw money or someone who is on the way home from some social venue. You have a broad spread of that and then you have the off-licences which are always an area for visitation by youngsters for drink or cigarettes, and they may go in armed with a knife or otherwise. There is a fair range of activity contained within the phrase "armed robbery" as such and we do monitor all activity of that nature simply looking for the paramilitary involvement.

Mr Clarke

  74. I wonder if I could ask a couple of sensitive questions to try to get a feeling on where we are now as opposed to where we may have been pre the Good Friday Agreement. Pre the Good Friday Agreement there must have been times when your attempts to bring criminals and those who were engaged in all the activities which you have talked about to book because of the security situation. Maybe because of the security service input, you at times had to hold back because the security services were chasing a bigger fish or bigger crime or something got in the way of your best attempts to bring people to justice. Post the Good Friday Agreement, is it easier now or harder? Is it easier because you are focused down on less groups because of the cease-fire or is it harder because of the political situation where you do not want to be seen to be going in heavy handed? Has it changed at all, post cease-fire, your attempts to bring these people to justice?
  (Mr White) I do not subscribe to your argument in the first place that there were inhibitors there. Obviously there may have been arrests from a pure crime side that we would have chosen or desired to do where because of covert activity in that particular area where those people resided, you might find were put back by 24 or 48 hours, but nothing ever ruled out the capacity to arrest those people. What we have found since the cease-fire is more or less the mushrooming of the capacity of the criminal fraternity to be engaged in crime because pre ceasefire with the high volume of patrolling that was being done, plus the activities of paramilitaries themselves in monitoring their own areas, that had a suppressing effect on the criminals as such, and they did not have free movement or free reign in that sense, but post ceasefire with the dramatic reduction of military patrols, the lack of VEPs and everything else, as we move towards normalisation, it really did free up the movement of people themselves, which freed up the movement of criminals, which means that criminals started to operate outside their own natural areas. The opportunities were there for them to engage in activities. It also freed up, for a large part, a lot of the paramilitaries themselves who had time on their hands, and who were not constrained by the organisations to the same extent as before, and who recognised that there was another side to this and that there was this opportunity to raise finance, and not finance entirely for the organisation. So those factors all combined since the cease-fire have given a fair good boost to the whole infrastructure of criminality in the Province, and I am content that that aspect has been recognised by the Government through the creation of the Organised Crime Task Force and the very interest that this Committee is taking in the whole position. What is not inhibited is the following of the criminals. All that has inhibited me there is a shortfall in terms of detectives and officers with the capacity to take those investigations forward.

  75. Equally sensitive, we have spoken a lot this afternoon about the attitude of mind and the culture of sticky fingers, and I think there was an inference, even if it was not said, that part of the community talk about victimless crime. But in relation to a dodgy CD, a dodgy video, a gaming machine that is not licensed, in this context there is no such thing if the money is getting through to the paramilitaries. Without wishing to be disrespectful, and there is none intended, what we always find is that there is an opportunity for collusion between those that enforce and those that carry out crime. What would your view be over the period of the last 20 years of the opportunities for collusion between individual RUC officers and those carrying out this so-called "soft" crime in terms of turning a blind eye to those dodgy video sales?
  (Mr White) I cannot accept that there has been any substantive number of officers in any shape or form. With the intelligence systems that we have, where there have been bad apples among us—and there have been—we have rooted them out, but most of them have been people who have been misguided in terms of their associations with the paramilitary groups and the activities they were primarily engaged in. That is not to say we do not have bad apples as police officers, but I am reasonably comfortable with the intelligence information system we have that we will find those people if they are so engaged. It is a small community and hiding that activity is impossible and it will out itself at some stage, and now we have the Ombudsman Office and everything else in place, which will be taking those investigations forward, its an issue. It is something that the organisation itself is conscious of and we are monitoring, but as for a substantive number of officers over the years—and I have been at that end of it now for 30-odd years—I cannot think of any big numbers of people that have been involved and nor have there been any claims that there have been. We certainly will be very conscious of that in future.

  76. Finally, do you think that it becomes increasingly more difficult when you start looking at these new criminal activities such as counterfeiting where it is not about collusion any more, it is about just not seeing it and therefore it is more difficult to detect an officer in the community "not seeing" a video sold because it is just not reported?
  (Mr White) You can get inertia in any organisation, but the way round that is to try to keep the organisation as a whole focused on the broad areas of criminality that are occurring. Communication is a major issue for us. We are involving the uniformed branch very much in investigating organised crime and they are seeing the benefits. In fact, some of the areas are led by uniformed side so they see the returns—I am thinking again of counterfeit goods in the markets. The real success of that is that the quality of police officer we get and the maintenance and integrity of policing standards we work to will not shift, no matter what happens.

  Mr Barnes: I appreciate that this has been a very long and fruitful session and this is a question where it might be possible to supply something in writing in that area, but what we have been doing essentially is concentrating upon the raising of paramilitary monies, the techniques used in connection with it, and how some of the monies may be recycled. At the start there was some discussion about where some of it went. Most paramilitary groups have got associated political groups and there must be a question of money that is raised for paramilitary organisations finding itself into the political wings of their organisation for electoral and other purposes. Is there anything that you could provide to us in those type of areas, maybe not so much now but at some time in the future?


  77. Probably vice versa.
  (Mr White) I am trying to think. When you look across the spectrum of paramilitary groups, short of PIRA, the others such as RIRA—do not have any political infrastructure, and they are divorced in a sense from the representatives that are there. CIRA is in the same fashion. There is the 32 county group but they are not a political force as such. The UDA has entirely lost its UDP representation although there are moves afoot to try and reinvigorate that aspect of it. The UVF represented by PUP's spokespeople are only two in number and I suppose they require some financing. INLA does not have any political arm as such. So really you are drawn back again to the PIRA / SF side of things as being the lead agency there. They have sharpened their profile immensely both within and without the Province, certainly focused on America, and really do not depend on sums of money coming at them from the illegal activities or the activities of the PIRA themselves. I think it would be safe to say—and the politicians that are in the room can correct me—that the PSF is probably one of the richest political groups within Ireland.

  78. Within the world.
  (Mr White) And it does not need supplementary handouts from the PIRA side. I think that bridge has been crossed by them. In the early days it may have been there, and no doubt was there, but they like to move one step ahead of scrutiny themselves, and in that sense I think there is enough money in the coffers from the US which comes legitimately to them to certainly keep them well covered. As to the others, I have no doubt there is some degree of haemorrhaging but whether or not it is a worthwhile pursuit to go after them and how we would go after them bearing in mind that they are legitimate political groupings and the law does not allow me any leeway in chasing the funds of political groups that are recognised in that sense, I am not sure.

  Mr Barnes: I appreciate the Chairman's point, it might move the other way in certain circumstances.

  79. Mr White, this has been a very useful and productive session. I am much obliged to you for all you have told us. You have been very frank with us, too. We will send you a transcript of what you have said to us and if you would like to give us an indication of anything that you would not wish to see published, we will of course consider that very sympathetically indeed.
  (Mr White) Will I be at liberty to rephrase some of the issues in the sense that it may be in that transcript, if it were your desire to publish?

  Mr Beggs: For accuracy, yes.

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