Other Questions. - International Money Laundering Investigation.

Austin Deasy

Question:

35 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason for the reported comments of the Swedish Prime Minister at the recent summit in Helsinki on the apparent lack of co-operation from the Irish authorities in assisting with an investigation into the collapse of a Swedish investment company involved in money laundering that had an Irish connection. [22175/99]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

47 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the investigation, if any, which has been held into the reported delay in responding to a request from the Swedish authorities for assistance in an international money laundering investigation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24342/99]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 47 together.

There was not an expression of annoyance about this matter by the Swedish Foreign Minister who represented the Swedish Prime Minister at the Tampere Summit; the Swedish Prime Minister did not attend the summit because of a family bereavement. As was made clear by the Taoiseach in this House on 2 November 1999, the Swedish authorities did not raise this case with any representative of the Irish Government at the summit nor have they made any complaint to the Irish authorities at any stage about the matter.

The request for mutual assistance in this case was received from the Swedish authorities on 22 January 1998. The request did not mention a money laundering offence or a money laundering investigation nor was there any question of freezing an account; in fact, the evidence in the District Court disclosed that there was not any money left in the account at the time the request was made.

The case as outlined in the request by the Swedish authorities was one of "gross breach of trust and gross embezzlement" concerning Trustor, an investment company. The request sought information concerning transactions on a Bank of Ireland account in the name of the Selrex Corporation.

The request was fully executed and the information sought was furnished to the Swedish authorities on 11 June 1999. The request was processed, as in the case with all such requests, in accordance with the relevant statutory provisions and the conventions to which Ireland is a party. Apart from my Department, the other bodies involved in handling the Swedish request were the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Chief State Solicitor's office, including counsel, the Attorney General's office, the Garda Síochána and the District Court. This is a new area of work for all of these bodies as the legislative framework was put into effect less than three years ago.

Apart from the time taken by the agencies here, time was also taken up by the need to revert to the Swedish authorities on two occasions; first, for additional documentation to meet our legal requirements and, second, for additional information that counsel required before the case could be brought before the court.

It is usual in cases where the matter is of particular urgency, for a requesting authority to specify a deadline and to follow up the request either by 'phone call or letter. That did not happen in this case nor was there any reference by the Swedish prosecutor to expediting the case when responding to the inquiries raised by the Irish authorities. In sending in the request the prosecutor referred to it as being urgent, but that is par for the course in these cases. Where deadlines are given, the authorities here go to great lengths to meet them and I am informed they have been successful thus far in meeting all deadlines set by requesting authorities.

As part of international mutual evaluation procedures, two independent bodies of experts have commented favourably on Ireland's arrangements for mutual assistance with regard to money laundering.

A report by an EU team of experts of August 1999 on Ireland's arrangements for mutual assistance was highly complimentary, while recommending some streamlining of procedures. These recommendations have been accepted and are in the process of being implemented. This exercise will help in speeding up the time taken to execute requests. An evaluation report on Ireland in October 1998 by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering was also highly complimentary.

There is concern at European level with reducing delays generally in the operation of the system for mutual legal assistance. The EU mutual evaluation process, to which I have referred, is part of the response to that concern and Ireland is fully committed to its successful outcome and to the improvement of judicial co-operation.

(Mayo): Apart from the courtesy aspect of the matter, does the Minister accept that when a request comes from another jurisdiction, particularly where the file is marked “gross embezzlement and gross breach of trust” and also marked “urgent” , it should be treated as a matter of urgency and that an 18 month delay, irrespective of whether there was any foundation for it, is unacceptable? This request had come from another jurisdiction, which had a certain amount of information on a particular account and it should have been expedited straight away. How can we expect interagency co-operation in relation to the Criminal Assets Bureau, which we are advocating on an international level, Europol and judicial co-operation, if we are so tardy in responding effectively, efficiently and at an early date to requests that come from other Governments, particularly EU Governments?

I remind the Deputy that we have been complimented on our performance in relation to money laundering co-operation and mutual assistance generally. This is only one of many cases that are dealt with, but I acknowledge the delay in this case was unacceptable. I accept that it is important that we should respond expeditiously to all such queries. Normally, when cases are urgent, the requesting authority would specify a deadline or follow up the request with either a telephone call or a letter. That did not happen in this case. I am not using it as an excuse. I accept that in this instance Homer nodded, but this one instance should be placed in the context of all the others where the performance of the authorities has been outstanding.

Does the Minister accept his initial reply to this House stating it was not raised by the Swedish Prime Minister when he knew the Swedish Prime Minister could not be there was disingenuous? Does he accept he should have acknowledged in his initial reply that officials from the Justice Ministry raised it at a press conference subsequent to the European Council meeting? Does he also accept a reply was received from Britain within two weeks and the Luxembourg authorities replied within two months? What steps is he taking consequent on this issue to improve the situation in Ireland? Does he accept that in this instance Homer nod ded but, as we will discover later tonight, there are many Homers nodding in that Department?

I always thought there was only one Homer.

Unfortunately, we are talking about Homer Simpson.

Consideration is being given to reducing, where possible, the involvement of the Attorney General's office in advising on cases and of Counsel in advising on or conducting cases in court and giving a more prominent role to the Chief State Solicitor's office in these functions. An attempt is being made to streamline the procedures. More extensive use of information technology is also planned. I accept that a difficulty arose in this case but, in general terms, Ireland's performance has been excellent.

It should be acknowledged that the matter was raised at the European Council meeting.

It was not raised with the Taoiseach or with me and I am not aware that it was raised with any of my officials. Does Deputy Howlin wish me to confirm a report? I cannot confirm or deny reports I have not seen.