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Tuesday, 2 July, 2002, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Paramilitaries reap 18m from rackets
Northern Ireland's paramilitaries are making up to 18m a year through smuggling, extortion and armed robberies.

However, a crackdown on their racketeering may be in jeopardy because of a lack of resources, according to a Commons committee.

It has criticised the allocation of just 10 officers to help in the seizure of criminal assets.

A report by the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, published on Tuesday, said the resources available to the Assets Recovery Agency were not adequate to tackle the estimated 18m raised annually by paramilitaries.

Paramilitary leaders can afford very extravagant personal lifestyles with some now entirely in this business to create a pension fund for themselves

Committee report

It said some loyalist and republican groups had worked together and bought goods from each other.

The MPs warned that without more staff the "high expectations" surrounding the agency were unlikely to be met.

"There can be no illusions about the worrying nature of the situation Northern Ireland currently faces," the report said.

"Paramilitary-related and organised crime is penetrating and corrupting society. The establishment of the Assets Recovery Agency could be a significant step forward in tackling the problem.

"Yet the work of the agency, locally as well as nationally, looks set to be frustrated by the lack of proper financial support and commitment from the government.

"We believe that it is currently under-resourced for the task required, and we further believe that the establishment of its reputation as a threat to criminality in its first few years will be crucial to its success."

Raising millions

The committee said the resources were in stark contrast to those afforded to the Criminal Assets Bureau in the Republic of Ireland - which has 45 personnel and has plans for further expansion.

Among the republican and loyalist paramilitary groups raising millions each year are:

  • The IRA: 5m to 8m a year, with estimated annual running costs of 1.5m
  • The dissident Real IRA: 5m a year, with running costs of 500,000
  • Loyalist Volunteer Force: 2m a year, with running costs of 50,000
  • Ulster Volunteer Force: 1.5m, with running costs from 1m to 2m
  • Ulster Defence Association: 500,000 to 1m
Police believe the enormous sums gathered means paramilitary leaders can afford "very extravagant personal lifestyles", with some now "entirely in this business to create a pension fund for themselves".

The list of illegal activities they are involved in includes fuel and tobacco smuggling, drugs trafficking, kidnapping, armed robbery, protection rackets and "loan sharking".

Witness support

The report said the IRA used professional accountants to help manage a portfolio of property, assets and investments.

It said the Real IRA's activities extended to "ordinary crime" in Britain.
Jane Kennedy:
Jane Kennedy: "Government in for the long haul"

Police believe one loyalist group bought 50,000 worth of illegal cigarettes from the IRA.

MPs also criticised low levels of support available to witness support schemes.

"The level of personal sacrifice required of the individual... is unreasonable; it makes the individual and potentially his or her family victims twice over," the report said.

"It is not surprising that so few are currently willing to make a stand."

Northern Ireland Security Minister Jane Kennedy said the government was in for the "long haul" in its fight against racketeers.

"Our grip is tightening on organised crime and no effort will be spared in the fight against the tyranny of gangsterism," she said.

Ms Kennedy, who chairs the Organised Crime Task Force, said she would be discussing the report with her fellow members later this week.

"This year we will add to our arsenal through Proceeds of Crime legislation and the creation of an Assets Recovery Agency which will have the power to confiscate the assets of criminals whose extravagant life styles are an affront to us all," she said.

BBC NI's London correspondent Stephen Walker:
"Methods include smuggling, extortion, drugs and armed robberies"
See also:

23 May 02 | N Ireland
05 Dec 01 | N Ireland
05 Dec 01 | N Ireland
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