A Northern Ireland conman at the centre of one of Ulster's biggest money laundering investigations has been forced to hand over £500,000 to the PSNI, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.
Antrim businessman Dennis Ernest Clarke was convicted at Belfast Crown Court following the major investigation launched by the PSNI's Financial Investigations Unit. He has been forced to hand over half-a-million pounds to the PSNI following an exhaustive transatlantic police investigation into a £2m fraud involving Belfast-based aerospace company Shorts.
The Telegraph has learned that the Canadian authorities are also keen to speak to 48 year-old Clarke, from Greenvale Park View in the town, in connection with alleged tax evasion running into several million dollars.
Clarke received a two-year suspended jail sentence earlier this year for money laundering after he was caught transferring hundreds of thousands of pounds of cash - illegally gained in Canada where he was working at the time - into the bank account of elderly relatives back home in Antrim.
It is understood that Clarke used laundered money to purchase several properties across Northern Ireland and Spain.
It was claimed in court at the time that the laundered money had been swindled from Belfast plane makers Shorts after Clarke made false claims for payment of invoices.
Clarke allegedly doctored time sheets for up to 160 contractors who were doing work for the company at their plant in Montreal.
He was accused of pocketing large sums of cash after making bogus over-time claims for hours that the unsuspecting contractors had not worked.
At the time of the alleged scam he was living in Montreal where he had set up a company called Nathan Air which looked after the contractors in Canada who had been brought in to carry out repair work on aeroplane barrels which had been damaged while being transferred from Belfast.
However, earlier this year a charge of defrauding the aerospace company was not proceeded with by the court but was left on the books.
The Clarke case was one of the biggest investigations launched by the Financial Investigation Unit to date with several officers travelling to Canada on a number of occasions to work on the case alongside the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the tax authorities there.
Suspicions about Clarke were first brought to the PSNI's attention in 2002 after the bank where his elderly relatives had an account contacted officers to say that large sums of money were being transferred into it from Canada.
After being found guilty of money laundering the PSNI's Financial Investigations Unit was able to confiscate assets under the proceeds of Crime Act, through a court order, that they believed Clarke had obtained illegally.
The Senior Investigating Officer in the case, Detective Inspector Sam Sittlington, today said that the money has now been handed over by Clarke - who was convicted back in the 80s of defrauding the prison service by doctoring time sheets while working as a prison guard - and it will be used to catch other criminals.
"Although we think Clarke benefited from £1m to £2m he only had half a million pounds worth of assets left which has been handed over to the PSNI. A total of £150,000 of that will be handed over to Shorts in compensation. The money that we received from Clarke will now be put straight back into the unit to help us go after others like him," said Mr Sittlington.