The Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) has trained 100 Garda personnel based around the country to identify and analyse lavish lifestyles for signs of criminality, including the concealment of wealth in Bitcoin and other alternative currencies.
The move to train the Garda members as “assets profilers” comes as the drugs trade has proven very resilient during the pandemic, and has spread significantly to the regions. Garda sources said fraud and cyber-enabled crime was also becoming a major feature on the criminal landscape in the Republic and that the new profilers had been given specialised cryptocurrency training.
The head of the Cab, Det Chief Supt Michael Gubbins, hosted the first online training course of new assets profilers and said Garda profilers were "the eyes and ears of the Criminal Assets Bureau on the ground". They were an integral part of "denying and depriving" criminals of their wealth.
"The bureau looks forward to continuing our positive engagement with all our divisional asset profilers within An Garda Síochána, Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection, " Mr Gubbins said.
The training course, held on Wednesday, was the final part of the training for the 100 new assets profilers within the force. The bureau was supported by International IP Crime Investigators College, Interpol's online learning institute, in delivering the module on cryptocurrency.
As much of Irish crime now has an international dimension, foreign investigators also joined the training, including those from Interpol, the UK's National Crime Agency and the Northern Ireland Co-operation Overseas agency.
Garda sources said the multi-million euro seizures of cash and drugs, which are now at record levels, is proof the drugs trade has continued to thrive during the pandemic. While many of those seizures have been made in Dublin, or are linked to Dublin-based gangs, they are also increasingly being made in rural Ireland.
Senior officers in both the Cab and at Garda Headquarters in Dublin have decided to expand the assets profile group across the force in a bid to keep pace with organised crime, especially the spread of the drugs trade into rural Ireland.
While senior criminals and those just below them have always been targeted by the bureau since its inception in the aftermath of the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin in 1996, in recent years the Cab has increasingly pursued lower-level targets.
These often have only modest wealth, such as expensive cars and relatively small sums of money. However, the Cab believes even taking vehicles off such criminals, especially as they are high-profile in rural areas, sends a message that no level of organised criminality will be accepted and no asset too small to seize.
This week the bureau's officers repossessed a large house in Killarney, Co Kerry, worth between €300,000 and €400,00, from Patrick Coffey (36) who the Cab told the High Court was part of a gang involved in deception-based crimes. That same inquiry, which was based on the initial work done by a Garda assets profiler in Kerry, also resulted in the confiscation of nine vehicles, 12 designer watches and more than €300,000 in cash and bank accounts.