The Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) has launched an unprecedented investigation into a group of solicitors, accountants and mortgage brokers, the Sunday Tribune can reveal.
Cab is probing 'white collar' involvement in criminality and believes that the group of rogue professionals has been deliberately helping criminals hide their assets and buy property from the proceeds of crime.
"In the course of our investigations into criminals, the same names of solicitors, accountants and mortgage brokers kept coming up as assisting them – helping them wash their money essentially. Some professionals have been doing it unwittingly but a small group of them knew exactly what they were doing. We are targeting them at the moment in a new investigation," said a senior garda source.
In a separate investigation, the bureau is preparing to seize the assets of up to 20 Irish criminals living in the so-called 'Costa Del Crime' area of Spain.
Cab has been liaising with the Spanish authorities and is preparing to seize several properties, luxury cars and even a yacht.
"There's been a huge effort in recent months on targeting Irish criminals in Spain. There'll be movement on that very shortly. One item we're looking to seize is a luxury yacht," the garda added.
In 2007, Cab began to target middle-ranking criminals along with multimillionaire criminals.
At present, Martin 'The Viper' Foley is being investigated as is Crumlin crime figure 'Fat' Freddie Thompson. A major drug-dealer from Finglas, known as 'Mr Big', is also being closely scrutinised by Cab. "We expect to hit Martin Foley with a significant revenue bill soon,"said the garda.
A tactic among middle-ranking criminals to prevent gardaí seizing their money is to carry thousands of euro on their person.
"It's amazing, you wouldn't believe it. A lot of them don't know what to do with it so they carry it in rucksacks in their cars. Every other day we have seizures of this kind. Customs officers have had a lot of success catching guys coming in and out of the ports and the airports with huge amounts of money, up to €40,000 in some cases," he said.
Bulgaria and Spain are the two most popular destinations for criminals to buy overseas property.
"Spain has always been a popular choice for Irish criminals. Bulgaria is a new development and we've a number of on-going cases involving property there."
The garda explained that many other middle-ranking criminals, who would be well known in the media, actually have very few assets.
"This new breed of criminal is not like the John Gilligans of this world. Many of them aren't building up extensive property portfolios. They are spending their money as soon as they get it. They buy a fancy car and that's about it, so we often seize them. They live in the moment, spending a lot and carrying their money around with them. But they are more ruthless and violent."
Cab currently has 300 active cases. The bureau seized almost €10m in assets from criminals in 2007 and its 2008 and 2009 figures are expected to far exceed that.
In addition to asset seizure, it made a €19m tax demand in 2007 and collected €10m which was handed to the state. A further €551,000 was made in social welfare savings.
At the moment, crime gangs in Limerick, Crumlin and Drimnagh are getting particular attention from Cab. "Limerick has always kept us busy and never more so than at the moment. We've taken a lot of bullet-proof cars and expensive jewellery so far this year. We've had a lot of success in taking criminals off social welfare, job seekers allowance and sometimes even their girlfriends' single-parent allowance. We also have a number of investigations into members of the travelling community involved in crime."
The bureau has more than 110 profilers, including some Revenue and Customs officials, studying the assets of criminals around the country. The profilers supply information to the bureau's head office in Dublin with a view to beginning High Court assets' confiscations proceedings.
Established in the aftermath of the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, Cab has successfully confiscated the assets of many of the country's most powerful criminals.