I am grateful to the Seanad for this opportunity to talk about the Criminal Assets Bureau and its work. The bureau has been very successful over the years in tackling criminals in an effective, visible and tangible way and has become a very open way for the public to see the law enforcement agencies of the State having a real effect on criminal activities. The 2007 annual report demonstrates the effectiveness of the co-ordinated multi-agency approach in dealing with the proceeds of crime.
While we are here today to talk about the CAB and its activities, it would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity once to again extend my condolences to the family and friends of Shane Geoghegan who died so tragically in Limerick this weekend. I know that all Members of the House will join with me in their condemnation of this callous killing.
I also know that all Members of the House will fully support the efforts of the Garda Síochána to bring the perpetrators to justice. For its part, the Government will continue to provide the Garda Síochána with all the resources it requires to tackle gangland activity. A relevant example of this is an increase of €1.5 million in the Criminal Assets Bureau budget for 2009. With the indulgence of the House, when replying to the debate, I will deal in more detail with this dreadful killing and with any issues Senators raise in this regard.
It would also be remiss of me not to congratulate the drugs joint task force on the major seizure of cocaine off the south-west coast last week. This operation, involving the Garda Síochána, Customs and Excise and the Naval Service working closely with our international partners in the Serious Organised Crime Agency, SOCA, in the UK and the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) in Lisbon, is an example of what can be achieved when we collaborate and work together for the common good. I hope Senators join me in applauding all involved.
This effort by the joint task force is especially relevant today as the Criminal Assets Bureau is, in effect, another joint task force. Bureau officers come from a range of State agencies, not just the Garda Síochána. Officers of the bureau who come from, for example, the Department of Social and Family Affairs or the Revenue Commissioners also retain their powers as officers of their parent organisations. This has resulted in an effective organisation which can draw on a wide range of powers in a co-ordinated manner. The bureau can also draw on a wide range of intelligence sources and can leverage effectiveness from these sources. That is and has been bad news for criminals.
I am sure we all remember only too well the dark days preceding the formation of the bureau when it appeared the State was impotent in tackling the menace of the drugs gangs and their murderous associates. The State needed to assert its authority and the new type of organised criminal needed a new response. Respond we did. The co-ordinated multi-agency bureau set up to focus on the proceeds of crime was one of the first of its type in Europe and the powers given to it were far-reaching. The bureau represented a new form of policing designed to disrupt and disable the capacity of targeted individuals from participating in further criminal activity. Criminal investigation could continue while a financial investigation, a tax examination and a social welfare examination proceeded.
While never giving up on the criminal investigation, the proceeds of crime became an equally legitimate target for law enforcement. The law-abiding public was rightfully disgusted at seeing drug dealers and other criminals exhibiting their new properties, cars and cash in the faces of communities that were suffering from the ill-effects of drug dealing and other nefarious activities. Therefore, I believe these Houses took the correct measures in 1996 when they established the CAB. That decision has been vindicated every year since.
We are here today to examine what the bureau achieved in 2007. The 12th annual report of the bureau was published last week. It clearly highlights the success over the calendar year 2007. During this period, the bureau obtained interim orders to the value of almost €10 million and interlocutory orders — final restraint orders — to the value of more than €6.5 million. These are impressive figures.
However, it is important to note that targeting the assets of lower ranking criminals will not be as lucrative for the State in terms of moneys seized. That said, it is no less worthy an action to take. The more middle ranking criminals, who are often well known as drug dealers in local areas, are a constant source of anger and irritation for parents and community workers doing their best to protect their youth and keep their local community safe. We did not set up the bureau to make money but to deprive individuals from benefiting from the proceeds of crime. In terms of community confidence and support, it is very important to show that all criminals may be subjected to the CAB process and that all assets in excess of €13,000, approximately, are liable to be frozen.
I should also address another community issue that consistently draws attention, namely, that moneys seized and forfeited to CAB should be re-invested into the local communities from which it originated. To agree that revenues secured through CAB be allocated for drugs victims, for example, would mean that the treatment of drugs victims would be financed, in part at least, by uncertain and variable revenue sources. It would also mean that a fall in revenue from one particular source would lead to a fall in expenditure in that local community, irrespective of the problems it faced. With that in mind, I do not propose to alter the current arrangements. The Government will continue to draw on the central fund for all necessary public services and investment.
An important function of the bureau is to implement taxation laws. It has found the Disclosure of Information for Taxation and Other Purposes Act 1996 to be particularly useful and the provisions were used extensively in 2007 to allow for a transfer of information between the Revenue Commissioners and the bureau. Many tax investigations were concluded by agreements providing for the payment of tax, interest and penalties. During 2007, the bureau issued tax demands for more than €19 million and collected in excess of €10 million in taxes and interest.
In terms of social welfare, the bureau saved the State more than €550,000 and recovered in excess of €136,000. While this may seem like a smaller element of the CAB process, it is another piece in the jigsaw that helps the bureau to form a clearer picture of those with whom it is dealing. Many Irish criminals feel they have an absolute entitlement to welfare payments irrespective of their earnings. Stopping these payments and entitlements is an irritation for many criminals and represents another disruption to their activities.
As each year passes, it appears that more and more crimes have an international element to them. International co-operation is no longer an aspiration but an essential element of most CAB investigations. Co-operation remains high with most of its European and international partners, even though the non-conviction based approach to asset forfeiture presents difficulties for many European countries. The further development of links with asset recovery agencies in other jurisdictions continues to be a key feature in ensuring criminals cannot use international boundaries as a means of evading investigation and asset seizure.
Co-operation with the United Kingdom remains a high priority. Difficulties presented by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, HMRC, legislation early in 2007 were quickly addressed and amended by the British Government. The CAB was instrumental in the establishment of the European Camden Asset Recovery Inter-agency Network, CARIN, which is going from strength to strength. The CAB participates in the United Nations inter-governmental working group on asset recovery and is a member of an important European Commission expert group on this issue. In 2008, the bureau has continued to successfully pursue its remit of seizing the assets of those who seek to benefit from criminal activity. I will now briefly outline some of the new developments in this regard.
Ten additional staff have been recruited in 2008, comprising five gardaí, two financial analysts, two tax officials and an additional administrative assistant. This has allowed the bureau to establish an additional team in 2008 which will provide the bureau with more flexibility regarding the assets it targets. I am informed by the chief bureau officer that all his teams are now targeting high and middle ranking criminals. The depth of experience at the bureau is continually increasing and its approach has intensified in 2008. This should address understandable community concerns that the bureau should focus on all criminals who are parading their ill-gotten assets in the face of local communities and not just the Mr. Bigs. The bureau appointed two additional financial crime analysts in 2008. As it now has to delve deeper into the financial affairs of many of their clients, the additional analysts provide great assistance in carrying out forensic analyses of efforts to hide assets and launder the proceeds of crime.
A further important development in 2008 was the rapid expansion in the number of trained asset profilers working all over the country. At the end of 2007, 28 fully trained assets profilers were employed but the figure has more than trebled in 2008. This should alleviate concerns that the bureau is only focused on criminals in the main urban centres. The profilers have become an invaluable resource in doing the bureau's early groundwork on possible targets and in keeping it informed of developments at local level. While the profilers are based outside the bureau, their work is embedded in it. This is a very positive development.
I do not wish to give Senators the impression that the Criminal Assets Bureau is the only tool available to disrupt and dismantle criminal groups. Criminal investigations followed by conviction must always be our main priority. The bureau is only one element of the criminal justice system, albeit an extremely effective one.
I am happy to report to this House on progress made by CAB in 2007. When the bureau was first established in October 1996, I do not believe anyone could have foretold the levels of its success. From its statutory inception to 31 December 2007, the bureau has obtained interim and final restraint orders to the value of over €71 million and €35.5 million, respectively. In the same period, taxes and interest demanded was almost €122 million and over €118 million was collected. Savings on social welfare payments amount to over €3.5 million and recovery of overpayments amounted to over €2.5 million. On behalf of the Government, I commend detective chief superintendent John O'Mahoney and his team on their achievements during 2007 and I look forward to further successes in the future. I have no doubt that the bureau will continue to be a thorn in the side of criminals.