A TASKFORCE set up to combat organised crime has rescued 16 potential victims of human trafficing, dismantled 22 fuel laundering plants and seized £1,359m in criminal assets in the past year.
Justice Minister David Ford (right) revealed the Organised Crime Taskforce's (OCTF) successes as he published its annual report and threat assessment.
He challenged the public to think if their actions support organised crime.
An OCTF video launched at the event, aims to bring the issue closer to home by getting the public thinking about their role in supporting organised crime whether that is buying fake goods, filling their cars with laundered fuel or purchasing prescription medicines from an illicit source.
Other key successes for the OCTF during 2012/13 include:
• 4,475 drug seizures with a value of £10.2million;
• 2,784 arrested by PSNI for drug offences – almost 10% more than the previous year;
• 820,000 litres of illicit fuel seized
• £1.359million criminal assets seized and £729,000 cash forfeited.
"Law enforcement agencies and government will continue in our work to tackle organised crime but the support of the public is vital," said Mr Ford. "Our threat assessment points to the continued general lack of public understanding of the connection between, for example, the purchase of fake goods and the supporting of organised crime gangs; and indeed the funding of more dangerous elements of the gangs including selling drugs to young people and prostitution rings involving trafficking victims."
In relation to the new National Crime Agency (NCA), David Ford said: "Organised crime is a worldwide threat, and as Justice Minister and Chair of the Organised Crime Taskforce, I am naturally concerned that if the NCA cannot fully exercise its duties here crime fighting efforts against organised criminals will be weakened in Northern Ireland. In my view there is no reason why the NCA should not be able to exercise its full range of duties in Northern Ireland. I hope that with renewed engagement and discussion this will be possible."
Chief Constable Matt Baggott said: "Police are working with partners to reduce the threat posed to communities by organised crime: last year we frustrated, disrupted or dismantled 116 organised crime groups and made 464 arrests, in many cases resulting in convictions and custodial sentences.
"Our criminal justice work will continue but we will also be concentrating on increasing community awareness.
"People need to recognise the link between their decisions to purchase certain goods and services and how the wrong choice can increase their personal risk of becoming a victim. We will continue to work to reduce the substantial risks posed to our communities by organised crime."