Cab moves the battle against crime bosses online
The Criminal Assets Bureau has altered the landscape in which criminals operate
Det Chief Supt Eugene Corcoran, head of the Criminal Assets Bureau: “Our legislation doesn’t keep abreast of advances perhaps as quickly as it should.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
On the morning of June 27th, 1996, then taoiseach John Bruton stood up in the Dáil and said he wished to make a statement.
It was less than three weeks since 14 shots from a Kalashnikov assault rifle had been fired into a Garda car at Adare in Co Limerick, killing Det Garda Jerry McCabe, and less than 24 hours since two men on a motorcycle pulled up beside the red Opel Calibra of journalist Veronica Guerin on the Naas Road and shot her six times in the chest and upper body, killing her instantly.
“The situation,” began Bruton, “concerning the murder – on the order of people involved in organised crime – of a journalist, is a grave threat to our democracy and to the standard of life which this State has upheld for more than 75 years.
“Nobody is untouchable. Nobody who orders a crime in a democratic society can be allowed to be untouchable and nobody will be allowed to be untouchable. The Government is intensifying its efforts to change administrative and legal procedures in our State so we can deal more effectively than we have been able to deal to date with organised crime.”
Less than four months later, the Proceeds of Crime Act was enacted and the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) was born.
“We can never lose sight of those tragic events that gave rise to the bureau and the particular legislation that was put in place,” says Det Chief Supt Eugene Corcoran, the head of the bureau.
“You’d have to picture an environment where things had developed in the organised crime world to the point where a piece of legislation like that was just absolutely necessary. The ultimate in terms of a criminal act against all of what is right and proper was to murder a journalist like that. I think it demonstrated for everybody – and I think especially for those who were in power – the imperative for legislation at that time.”
The inception of the bureau 17 years ago this week was designed to radically change the landscape of gangland Ireland. For the first time, the onus was placed on the citizen to prove assets were the proceeds of legitimate activity, rather than on the State to prove the contrary.
The imprisonment of convicted criminal John Gilligan in 1996 and his release from Portlaoise’s maximum security facility this week bookends the bureau’s existence to date – and Corcoran believes much has changed in gangland Ireland in the interim.
‘Level of violence’
“We’ve seen an escalation in the level of violence, and the number of deaths has vastly increased,” he says. “Criminals will use firearms against members of the gardaí. These are very dangerous people. That’s the very reason we exist.”
He highlights a younger age profile among criminals, the freedom to travel, and the rapid growth of telecommunications as other key developments.
“You’ve got practically free movement throughout Europe, ” he says. “You can have relatively easy communications now irrespective of location in a variety of ways that are very often difficult to detect and difficult to monitor. That has changed the face of how the investigations must be focused in terms of communications and supply lines for drugs. We have had to increase our level of expertise in that area and our level of co-operation with agencies in other jurisdictions.”
To help with this, the bureau is part of the Camden Assets Recovery Interagency Network. It is an international intelligence-sharing co-operative based in The Hague. Corcoran says in an age where criminality is international, there is more willingness than ever among these asset recovery agencies to work together – but legislation is needed to keep track of advances in technology.