Irish law must keep up with modern criminal world and improve international buy-in, Cab says

Oireachtas Justice Committee hears operating environment had changed in decades since original Proceeds of Crime Act passed

The logo on a jacket of a member of the Criminal Assets Bureau  carrying out searches on homes and businesses in Dublin targeting the activities of a south inner city-based crime group linked to David Byrne, who was murdered in the Regency Hotel.  PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 9, 2016. See PA story POLICE Raids Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson /PA Wire

The Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) has said legislation must keep pace with a modern world where high ranking criminals move abroad and out of the reach of Irish court orders.

Despite new draft laws aimed at strengthening Cab powers to identify and seize criminal property, justice officials have highlighted a pressing need to improve international buy-in.

The bureau was established in 1996, shortly after the murder of crime journalist Veronica Guerin, in an effort to add additional pressures on criminals outside of routine prosecution.

Since its inception, about €210 million worth of assets have been wrested from criminal players. The Cab currently has targets in every county and 50 new asset-profilers are due to be trained next week.


The Oireachtas Justice Committee, dealing on Tuesday with pre-legislative scrutiny of pending legal amendments, heard the operating environment had changed in the decades since the original Proceeds of Crime Act was passed.

Kevin McMeel, the Cab’s legal officer, told the committee that since the 1990s, the world of crime had become more international.

“[The law] was deemed to be effective and what we see now is that the criminals that we are targeting tend to move abroad, particularly those that are at a high level,” he said.

“One of the downsides of having such far-reaching and pioneering legislation is that other jurisdictions tend not to recognise our orders. And so there is considerable challenges in trying to effect orders [abroad].”

Mr McMeel said this was also true of a shift toward cryptocurrencies and challenges around their seizure.

“The world has moved on and it’s incumbent on us in the Criminal Assets Bureau to move with the times.”

Brendan Bruen, a criminal legislation official at the Department of Justice, said international co-operation was “absolutely vital”.

The EU recently adopted the Asset Recovery Confiscation Directive, a model of confiscation of unexplained wealth that Mr Bruen said had been influenced by Irish legislation.

“I think that is likely to significantly change the attitudes of other jurisdictions to international co-operation and to enforcement of orders,” he said. “I think for the first time all European countries will have a model that is much closer to a Cab model.”

The committee was told that since the early days of Cab powers, criminals had adapted – no longer buying conspicuous mansions that could be easily identified and seized. This had led to a quick decline in the “huge” early value of asset disposals.

Mr McMeel said this had led to criminals being forced to live abroad, an indicator of how Cab had managed to disrupt their lifestyles.

Members of the committee heard that in cases where Cab reached settlements with targets, this was done on the agreement that officers would not seek legal costs – and an understood lack of resulting publicity. This had simply become an acceptable reality of the “law enforcement landscape”, they were told.

Draft provisions under Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2024 would allow the Cab to immediately appoint a receiver in cases of asset seizure.

Under current legislation, once the High Court has determined an asset is a proceed of crime, it can take at least seven years before it can be confiscated and sold. The new Bill would reduce that period to two years.

A separate amendment is proposed to avoid attempts to re-litigate whether property has been purchased from the proceeds of crime.

It also aims to provide a judicial extension to the time property can be seized by the District Court to allow for further investigation and the preparation of a subsequent application to the High Court.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times