I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 294 to 299, inclusive, together.
The criminal law in this jurisdiction does not make it easy for criminals to launder money or invest the proceeds of crime in the legitimate property market. On the contrary, a broad range of strong legislation is available to the Garda Síochána to enable serious and organised crime to be confronted effectively. The criminal legislative framework reflects international developments to respond to the global growth of organised crime and specific measures enacted to meet our domestic situation which is kept under review.
Section 31 of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 provides that a person who converts, transfers or handles property or removes it from the State and knows or believes it represents the proceeds of criminal conduct, is guilty of the offence of money laundering. It is also an offence to provide any advice or assistance in converting, transferring, handling or removing property which would amount to money laundering. Under section 57 of the Act suspicions must be reported to the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners. Section 32 of the Act makes provision for the designation of bodies and activities in respect of money laundering offences and sets out the measures to be taken by those bodies regarding identification of customers and recording of transactions. New regulations were drawn up under section 32(10)(a) of the Act to fulfil Ireland’s obligations under the second EU money laundering directive in order to update the 1991 money laundering directive. The directive makes provisions for the designation of new categories such as solicitors, accountants, auditors, tax advisers, as well as auctioneers and estate agents. Regulations were signed in order to give effect to the directive.
Estate agents and auctioneers have been designated bodies since 15 September 2003. Section 32 of the 1994 Act obliges designated bodies to secure and retain the identity of clients for whom they are engaged to provide a service on a continuous basis or where cash in excess of €13,000 in respect of real property transactions, or in excess of €15,000 in respect of high value goods, changes hands.
Between the Criminal Assets Bureau and the money laundering legislation, there is an array of legislative means available to the Garda Síochána to investigate, confiscate and trace criminal assets into real estate.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
If an estate agent or auctioneer suspects that money laundering is taking place, a duty arises to report such suspicions to the relevant authorities. With the introduction of the statutory instruments to which I have referred, representative bodies of auctioneers and estate agents have become members of the money laundering steering committee and, in consultation with the committee, are in the process of developing guidelines on money laundering to ensure compliance with the regulations.
The money laundering steering committee, set up in 1994 under the chairmanship of the Department of Finance, is a representative body of Departments, enforcement agencies, financial institutions and other designated bodies. Its main function is to facilitate consistent application of the money laundering provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 across the range of bodies and professions affected by the legislation.
Elements of the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 which will be published today will further aid the Garda in the investigation of crime. The main purpose of this Bill is to improve the efficiency with which criminal offences, in general, are investigated and prosecuted.
The Deputy will appreciate that it would not be possible for the Garda to say, at any given time, how many properties are in the hands of criminal gangs or are in the course of acquisition by such gangs. However, the Garda continue to take a pro-active and integrated approach to the investigation of all serious crime, including all aspects of organised crime, such as money laundering.
I am informed that the Garda Commissioner has put in place arrangements for criminal investigations which involve members of the national bureau of criminal investigation working together with local district units to combat organised crime. Garda efforts in this area have met with success. A number of persons are before the courts and a number are serving sentences. Moreover, the Criminal Assets Bureau continues to apply its statutory remit to target assets, including property, derived from organised crime.
With regard to the exact number of organised criminals currently on bail, in prison or early release, data is not maintained by the various relevant elements of the criminal justice system in a way which would readily facilitate the provision of such data broken down by category of criminal. Between 1 May 2003 and 31 December 2003, the Garda received in excess of 3,000 suspicious financial transaction reports. It is important to note however, that not all of these transactions would have necessitated criminal investigations and it is not necessarily the case that all suspicious transactions are linked to the activities of organised criminals. The suspicious transactions office of the Revenue Commissioners and the Garda bureau of fraud investigation meet regularly to review the reports received and to ensure their respective actions are co-ordinated and do not overlap. Money laundering investigations are conducted by the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners deal with cases of suspected tax evasion.
The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority requires all institutions which it supervises to comply with anti-money laundering legislation and relevant sectoral guidance notes and to have in place the necessary procedures and controls to ensure such compliance. The adequacy of such systems are reviewed by the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority in the course of its ongoing supervision of institutions and requirements advised to institutions, as necessary. As part of its ongoing supervision the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority ensures that institutions are informed of international developments in the area of prevention of money laundering, in particular in relation to recommendations and reports on money laundering issued by the international financial action task force.
Ireland's law and procedures on money laundering were the subject of a favourable review in 1998 by the financial action task force under that body's procedure for the mutual evaluation of its members. The next mutual evaluation of Ireland is due in 2005.