A retired businessman has claimed the State unlawfully seized about Stg£3m (€3.4m) from his home, money which, according to gardaí, was part of the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery in Belfast in December 2004.
Lawyers for the State, in opposing Ted Cunningham’s proceedings, said it was “as plain as a pikestaff” the money came from the Northern Bank robbery and Mr Cunningham was not entitled to it.
In proceedings heard on Thursday, the court was told Mr Cunningham (68), Woodbine Lodge, Farran, Co Cork, is not looking for the money back but he wants the Garda Commissioner to provide him with an account of what happened to it after it was seized from his home in 2005.
The Commissioner says the money was lawfully repatriated to Danske Bank, which acquired Northern Bank, following a court confiscation order in 2014.
Mr Cunningham was jailed for 10 years in 2009 for laundering Stg£3m from the Northern Bank robbery, a charge he denied.
He was freed in 2012 after the Court of Criminal Appeal ruled the warrant used to search his home was invalid.
A retrial was ordered on nine of the 10 charges against him.
The tenth charge referred to Stg £2.4m allegedly found in his home on February 17th, 2005 and no re-trial took place on this count due to the invalidity of the warrant.
In February 2014, his retrial on the nine other charges began.
A few days into the trial, Mr Cunningham pleaded guilty to two counts of money laundering when he was reckless as to whether two sums, of £100,400 and £175,360, were the proceeds of the robbery.
He received a sentence backdated to when he first went into prison with the effect that he did not have to serve any more time.
He claims he wrote a number of times to the State seeking an explanation as to what happened to the money but got no response or no meaningful explanation.
Forfeiture and distribution
He brought High Court proceedings last year seeking a number of orders, including one compelling the Commissioner to provide an account of the forfeiture and distribution of the money and a declaration the money was unlawfully seized.
He also sought an injunction restraining the inspector of taxes taking any enforcement action against him pending these proceedings.
On Thursday, Barra McCrory, a Northern Ireland Queen’s Counsel representing Mr Cunningham, argued there is a dispute over whether a forfeiture order over the money was made following his client’s 2014 trial.
It was not until 2018, when High Court proceedings were brought, that the State produced a forfeiture order which was dated May 2018.
“That is of concern and will require some explanation which has not so far been forthcoming,” counsel said.
While Mr Cunningham was not seeking the quashing of the 2018 order, or looking for the money back, he was seeking an account of what exactly happened to it after it was taken from him in an act which the Supreme Court said was unlawful because of an invalid warrant, counsel said.
Séamus Clarke SC, for the Garda Commissioner, said his client had fully set out the statutory provisions under which the money was detained and distributed.
It was within Mr Cunningham’s own gift to get the court confiscation order following his 2014 trial, he said.
Mr Cunningham had said he wants the money taken from his home offset against his tax liability and had been “nebulous” as to his description of ownership using words like “my money” and “taken from my house”, counsel said.
In Garda interviews following his arrest, he admitted he knew some of the money came from the Northern Bank, counsel said.
The onus was on him to prove ownership, he said.
“It is as plain as a pikestaff this money came from the Northern Bank robbery and he was not entitled to it.”
Ms Justice Miriam O’Regan has reserved her decision.