Gardaí recover €1.8m from money mule bank accounts in major investigation

Two hundred investigations and arrest of 71 suspects at Irish end of Europe-wide crime inquiry

Garda sources told The Irish Times that evidence has been uncovered in recent months showing money mule recruiters were working at a very significant level in the Republic. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Garda sources told The Irish Times that evidence has been uncovered in recent months showing money mule recruiters were working at a very significant level in the Republic. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

Gardaí have started 200 investigations, arrested 71 suspects and recovered €1.8 million from so-called money mule bank accounts as part of a major European investigation into fraud-based organised crime.

Some 659 money mule bank accounts have been identified in the Republic and six money mule recruiters identified.

Garda sources have told The Irish Times that evidence has been uncovered in recent months showing money mule recruiters were working at a very significant level in the Republic. At times they have sought to gain immediate access to multiple new bank accounts to take deposits of up to €250,000 each, such was the value of the scams they were involved in.

Mule bank accounts are effectively bank accounts that gangs can get access so payments can be received in to them or stolen money moved through them in a bid to frustrate criminal investigations. The money being received, or moved through, the accounts is the proceeds of frauds and scams, including selling non-existent goods online, which can include high value jewellery, antiques, cars and even boats and campervans.

In some cases mule accounts are in the names of people who agree to allow their accounts to be used for criminal transactions in exchange for a fee. In other cases mules recruited by gangs open bank accounts under false identities, using forged passports and other documents, and then withdraw the money to give to the gang members.

Money mule accounts have been a rapidly growing problem in Ireland and across Europe and further afield in recent years, with a European Money Mule Action operation (EMMA 6) run by global law enforcement from September to November.

The operation, spearheaded by Europol and involving the Garda in the Republic, ran in 26 countries and resulted in 422 arrests and 4,031 money mule accounts being identified. Some 227 money mule recruiters were also identified with the theft of €33.5 million foiled.

Following the operation the Garda and other law enforcement agencies have commenced a public information campaign, #DontBeaMule, warning people against being caught up in scams or being drawn into being used as a money mule.

Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, has said students and younger people were being targeted by money mule recruiters. The Garda has warned people or groups against allowing their bank accounts, ATM cars or pin numbers to beused by anyone, saying those involved are organised criminals.

“This action is financing drug and people smuggling, terrorism and prostitution, among many other offences,” the Garda said of the money being used to exploit others, who are often vulnerable.

Anyone convicted of involvement in money mule activity – even allowing their account be used for one transaction – faced a jail term of up to 14 years, the Garda has said. Those convicted of the crime could also be refused visas to enter other countries and could also be placed on terrorist watch lists by law enforcement into some countries.

Gardaí have also warned any intelligence about a suspect’s involvement in such activity could emerge during vetting for positions in the financial sector and negatively affect credit rating or any vetting process they may need to undertake in the future.