No benefit to laws designed to seize Irish assets of human rights violators, Cab indicates

Criminal Assets Bureau was asked by Minister to review proposed legislation on the issue

There would be no "current practical benefit" to laws designed to seize the assets of human rights violators stashed in Ireland, the Criminal Assets Bureau has indicated.

In a letter to the Justice Committee – which has agreed to waive pre-legislative scrutiny of a Bill on the issue introduced by Labour's Brendan Howlin – Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she had asked the Cab to review the legislation.

“I am informed that they cannot see any current practical benefit from the proposed changes in this legislation. Neither do Cab believe that minor amendments would deliver the desired outcome,” she wrote, saying “significant further work” would be needed to make sure it was “workable and effective”.

“Seizure of assets in almost any case would require the police force of the country in which the human rights abuse has taken place to co-operate with Irish authorities,” she wrote, posing “significant challenges”.

The Bill would bring certain assets under the scope of the proceeds of crime act 1996, making them eligible for seizure where they result from conduct that is an offence under Irish law but not under the law of the state where it occurred.

Human rights laws

It is aimed particularly at human rights abusers and Mr Howlin has argued that it is particularly pertinent given its potential application to any belligerents found to have violated human rights laws during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Despite the concerns, the Justice Committee agreed to waive pre-legislative scrutiny, enabling the Bill to proceed to the next stage – it will consider the Bill at committee stage, however, when chairman James Lawless said it will invite in stakeholders to discuss the issue.

Mr Howlin indicated that Ms McEntee had signalled no objection to progressing with the Bill during a meeting on Wednesday. The legislation is a so-called "Magnitsky law", named for an accountant who accused officials of aiding tax evasion in Russia and died in prison.

Ms McEntee's letter was sent to the committee hours before it met on whether to expedite the Bill. Mr Lawless said "it's important we sent a strong signal during the current crisis that as an Oireachtas we will take all measures necessary to signal support to Ukraine."

Committee member and Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward said: "This is a situation where a country, individual or organisation has contravened the norms of acceptable behaviour on the international stage. This would empower Ireland to say we're not going to tolerate that."

“I think it was really important that the Oireachtas be very clear on the stand we would take in passing a law which would ensure Ireland will never be a place where the proceeds of human rights abuses would be stashed,” Mr Howlin said.