Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

£35m of criminal assets seized by agents

Around £35m worth of criminal assets were disrupted by law enforcement agencies over the past year, according to figures from the latest Government assessment on crime.

The Organised Crime Task Force annual report, which was released today, also revealed that £4.3m of illegal drugs and £1.6m in counterfeit goods were also seized by agencies throughout the 2007-08 financial year.

Policing and Justice Minister Paul Goggins has described the results as a great achievement in the fight against crime and praised the efforts of all those involved.

The report — which includes a threat assessment for this year — also highlights that weaning paramilitaries away from organised crime was still proving to be problematic.

According to the report some groups have turned to new areas of 'business' such as human trafficking or have adapted new techniques to enhance " traditional activities" such as the establishment of cannabis factories or using the internet to sell illegal/ counterfeit goods as well as to facilitate online fraud and money laundering.

Those that have not branched out into new areas still continue to engage in 'traditional' types of criminality such as fuel laundering, smuggling and drugs supply.

In terms of threats from paramilitary groups, the report gives very little detail except to say that many groups, despite being inactive, still engage in criminal activity — an assessment made in the recent Independent Monitoring Commission report.

It also said it believed that most members who were involved in activities such as drug dealing, fuel laundering, extortion, robbery etc did so for personal gain except for those connected with the Continuity IRA and The Real IRA. In terms of confiscating the proceeds of crime the former Assets Recovery Agency 'disrupted' 26 criminal activities worth £11.4m, of that 18 cases were resolved by the end of the year resulting in the recovery of £8.5m, up £8m from the previous year.

Tackling fuel laundering still remains a big priority not only because of the loss of revenue but also because of the affect illegally dumped waste has on the environment. And as a result the OCTF is setting up the Cross Border Fuel Fraud Enforcement Group to crackdown on the illegal laundering of fuel.

And while police and customs officials were able to seize more than £4.3m in illegal drugs, the emergence of cannabis factories is something that is new to Northern Ireland.

The report points out that the province does not suffer from the same problems that other parts of the UK have, such as crack cocaine or crystal meth, and has seen a reduction in the quantity of cannabis resin seized. But herbal cannabis seizures have increased.

Criminal gangs are often using residential properties, fitted with specialist equipment, to grow large quantities of cannabis resulting in more supply of the drug on the streets.

Mr Goggins said the OCTF would continue to use all its resources in its fight against crime in Northern Ireland.

"The annual report and threat assessment shows that the fight against organised crime is relentless," he said. "Where we can we will bring those in organised crime before the courts. However, if this is not possible, we will strip them of their assets and take away the trappings of wealth obtained through criminal activity.

"There must be no hiding place and I am pleased that the law enforcement agencies are enjoying success in this fight against organised crime. Over the past year they have disrupted over £35m of criminal assets that would have been used to fund illegal drugs and other serious crime that threatens our community. The partner agencies, working together have reduced the number of cash-in-transit robberies by over 56% and taken over £4m of illegal drugs off our streets.

"The OCTF will continue to take the fight against organised crime in Northern Ireland to the door steps of criminals who thi nk they can disregard the law."

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