MORE than £1.3m of assets has been seized from major Northern Ireland criminals in the past year.
The items, including houses linked to Carrickfergus UDA boss Clifford ‘Trigger’ Irons and dissident republican Roy McAuley, were sold off with the proceeds donated to good causes.
Justice Minister Naomi Long revealed the figure following an Assembly question by Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie.
She also detailed how in the past six years confiscation orders have led to the recovery of £6.3m from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
That number is now set to increase with the introduction of Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO) in Northern Ireland.
The legislation, which is active in England and Wales, is specifically aimed at paramilitary godfathers who use family members to hide their assets. It is expected to be introduced by the Assembly later this year.
Among those being targeted are South East Antrim UDA chief Gary Fisher — whose drug dealing gang has murdered three people in the past three years — and wealthy south Armagh cigarette smuggling dissident Aidan Grew.
Fisher’s paramilitary group, which stretches 20 miles from Larne to north Belfast and takes in chunks of Newtownards, takes in excess of £2.5m per year from drug dealing.
Police chiefs believe this has allowed him to amass a property and business empire in the name of close associates.
Fearing civil recovery action Fisher recently moved from his powerbase in Newtownabbey’s Rathcoole estate to the town of Greenisland five miles away. He knows he is a target for investigators after members of his South East Antrim UDA murdered innocent Glenn Quinn in January, and rival loyalists Geordie Gilmore and Colin Horner in 2017.
The same applies to Aidan Grew who has been the subject of several investigations into his assets and who served a prison sentence for evading duty on millions of illegal cigarettes smuggled into Northern Ireland from China.
After the 63-year-old former IRA bomber was jailed, his sister Patricia O’Neill tried to secure his release by showing up at the gates of Maghaberry Prison with £500,000 in cash, which was also confiscated.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said Unexplained Wealth Orders will be “a key part of the PSNI’s arsenal in tackling organised crime and paramilitaries, both of which go hand in hand”.
“Unforutnately because of the coronavirus situation it is unlikely that the Assembly can legislate for UWOs until the autumn,” he added.
A UWO forces a person to provide a detailed account of how they obtained cash, property or goods.
It does not require any criminal charges to be filed and can be issued against items valued at more than £50,000 if the owner is considered “politically exposed”, or is alleged to have been involved in serious crime.
The legislation eventually leads to a civil recovery order, which grants the authorities powers of confiscation. While this process is ongoing, courts can issue freeze orders preventing property from being sold or transferred.
Items held outside the jurisdiction can also be seized, with the secretary of state requesting assistance from the government of the receiving country.
UWOs cover bank accounts, property, vehicles, jewellery, art, vouchers and even postage stamps. They also take in vouchers and cash won through gambling.
Another key component is that the items seized do not have to be in the name of a criminal, and can belong to associates.