Gangland criminals ‘streetwise but not educated’, says Cab chief

Crime gangs more savvy but are being undone by need to flaunt wealth, says Clavin

The head of the Criminal Assets Bureau, Det Chief Supt Pat Clavin,  said criminals are increasingly converting their cash into assets that could be taken outside the State in plain sight. Photograph:  Cyril Byrne

The head of the Criminal Assets Bureau, Det Chief Supt Pat Clavin, said criminals are increasingly converting their cash into assets that could be taken outside the State in plain sight. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Irish organised crime gangs have become more savvy in disguising their investments and money laundering but they are still being undone by the need to flaunt their wealth in their home communities, the head of the Criminal Assets Bureau has said.

Det Chief Supt Pat Clavin added criminals were now increasingly converting their cash into assets that could be taken outside the State in plain sight.

Wealth could be converted to luxury cars and expensive jewellery and taken out of the country via car ferry only to turned back into cash in another jurisdiction.

However, he believed most of those involved in organised crime were overrated by sections of the public and the media, describing them as “street wise but not educated”.

“It’s part of the same reason why many of these criminals don’t move out of the areas they grew up in,” said Det Chief Supt Clavin of their need to flash their wealth.

“If they moved to more affluent places and they were driving around in an expensive car, for example, they wouldn’t stand out.

“But if you drive around a more working-class area in a Range Rover Vogue worth €150,000, everybody notices, everybody knows who you are and what you have. And that is very, very important to most of these guys.”

Some 345 assets profilers have been trained to spot the trappings of unexplained wealth in their areas and feed that information back to the Cab’s headquarters in Dublin for review. Of those profiles, 318 are in the Garda and 27 others are Revenue or are social welfare officials.

Criminal enterprises

Two years ago The Irish Times was the first to expose the extent to which criminals used car garages to hide and further their criminal enterprises.

Back then, under Det Chief Supt Clavin’s leadership, the Cab seized a fleet of mostly luxury vehicles from a car garage in Dublin controlled by Dublin-based members of the Kinahan cartel. They were ostensibly being offered for sale to the public by an apparently legitimate, registered, company.

However, when the Cab investigated the company and those behind it, the Cab found it was being used as a front for organised crime money laundering and as a slush fund for the Dublin-based members of the Kinahan cartel.

Gardaí have now found evidence that a large number of car garages in Ireland and the United Kingdom are owned, or controlled, by organised crime gangs.

And cars, some of them valued at well over €100,000, are being passed between these gangs as payment for drugs consignments. The vehicles can then be converted to cash at any time by being sold.

Payments made by the garage to the criminals who control them are being dressed up to look like legitimate income. Vehicles are loaned between the garages so the key gang members can drive them without ever owning them – a tactic designed to frustrate the Cab.

There are now serious concerns within the Garda at the extent to which the second hand car market, large sections of which is unregulated, has been infiltrated by organised crime, though investigations are now under way into several key garages in Ireland.

Det Chief Supt Clavin addressed more than 30 joint policing forums across the State to assure the public and elected representatives that the criminals in their locality do not go unnoticed.

“A lot of the places we have gone, they may not have the same concerns about organised crime, or gangland crime as it is called, as Dublin and other cities and large towns.

Very secretive

“But there is a lot of conversation, and a lot of worry and fear, in many places about being targeted by organised burglary gangs. And it has been important that we get out and reassure people, and show them the evidence, that we are going after burglary gangs too.”

The Cab, which has traditionally been very secretive, has also developed very active social media channels, to show the public that no crime gang is untouchable and that information received will be acted on.

The Cab’s workload surged last year after the threshold for targeting an asset was lowered from €13,000 to €5,000. Many of the assets the criminals seek to hide by turning into assets, such as cars and jewellery, are being seized under the new provisions allowing lower-value assets to be targeted.

Some 100 assets were taken away from criminals and frozen for future sale by the Cab in 2017, compared with 34 the previous year.

The value of assets frozen during the year was €7 million, with taxes and interest demanded valued at €14 million. Social welfare savings were €471,000 in 2017.

With organised crime figures remaining active into their old age and younger would-be crime bosses emerging every year, the need for the Cab has not diminished since it was established in 1996 in the wake of Veronica Guerin’s murder.