Crime Prevention

I raise the necessity for proof of identity to be provided when people engage in an exchange of gold for cash. As the Minister of State will know, this phenomenon is growing in towns and cities. One sees freestanding units in shopping centres to which people can go to a person equipped with a weighing scales to have gold assessed, following which an exchange of money takes place. The problem is that the presentation of identification by the person bringing the gold is not mandatory, which means people may sell gold which is not their own. There is no way of tracing their identity in the event that another person arrives and claims the gold was his or hers.

Many other Senators have come across this issue, as has the Minister of State I am sure. I met a constituent who told me his mother's house had been burgled but only gold had been taken; nothing else had been touched. The Garda immediately formed the view that the burglary had taken place in order that the gold could be exchanged for cash and that if proper identification was required before such exchanges could take place, it would mitigate the number of such surgical robberies simply because cash can be obtained easily for gold on an anonymous basis.

I look forward to the Minister of State's response to this matter which I consider to be urgent, in particular because it appears older people are left very vulnerable to robbery. I would see presentation of proof of identity as a measure that would not only regulate what can otherwise be a dubious exchange but also provide a greater degree of protection for those who have heirlooms and articles in their homes for which they have great personal affection and who fear they are increasingly being targeted on that account.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity, on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to update the House on it.

There has been a significant increase in the number of cash for gold outlets in towns and cities in the State and a significant amount of advertising for the direct mailing of gold to such outlets or dedicated postal and Internet cash for gold traders. In addition, it is understood that many kiosks are situated in hotels or shopping centres operated by individuals who are employed by a number of companies buying gold for cash. It appears that most of the gold offered to these outlets is paid for on a scrap value basis and items are smelted and recycled. Established jewellers also buy gold and jewellery for cash. The prevalence of this trade appears to be linked with the high price gold now commands on international markets and the cash for gold concept appears to be an international phenomenon.

The Minister is aware that the trade gives rise to concerns reported in communities about crime that may be linked with the cash for gold trade, in particular, burglaries. Section 17 of the of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, in essence, provides that a person is guilty of handling stolen property if he or she, knowing that the property was stolen or being reckless as to whether it was stolen, dishonestly receives or arranges to receive it, or undertakes or assists in its retention, removal, disposal or realisation by or for the benefit of another person, or arranges to do so. A person guilty of handling stolen property is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or both. Section 18 of the same Act, in essence, provides that a person who, without lawful authority or excuse, possesses stolen property knowing that the property was stolen or being reckless as to whether it was stolen, is guilty of an offence. A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or both.

In the context of money laundering and terrorist financing legislation, it might be noted that the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010 addresses the situation where a person buys gold and jewellery, etc, from a dealer, usually a jeweller, in the course of business and pays in cash to the value of €15,000 or more, or makes a number of separate purchases for smaller amounts to that total value or more. In such cases, there are significant requirements placed on the vendor, namely, the jeweller, to carry out customer due diligence which includes customer identification.

The Garda Síochána enforces the provisions of the criminal law in respect of theft and robbery, including the theft and robbery of jewellery and gold. Should members of the public have suspicions that goods being sold or traded may be stolen, the correct action is for these suspicions to be referred to the Garda for investigation. The latest Central Statistics Office crime statistical bulletin, for 28 October 2010, indicates that with regard to burglary in the third quarter of 2010 there were 6,016 recorded burglary and related offences, representing a decrease of 1,194, or 16.6%, on the number recorded in the same quarter of 2009. However, the annualised total for these offences, up to end of the third quarter of 2010, saw a smaller percentage decrease. The number of aggravated burglary offences decreased by 10.1% in this 12 month period. The total recorded burglary and related offences for the years 2007 to 2009 are 23,603 for 2007, 24,683 for 2008 and 26,911 for 2009.

To take account of concerns about the matter, the Department has formally asked the Garda Commissioner to ascertain his view of the extent to which, if any, criminal offences are being committed in the procurement and receipt of gold and similar items in transactions carried out at cash for gold locations. In particular, the Commissioner has been requested to examine whether the trade may be linked generally or in particular with areas in which burglary offences occur; whether criminal justice legislation, in particular, the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, is adequate in the context of cash for gold transactions; whether criminal elements involved in organised crime or otherwise may be connected with the operation and ownership of cash for gold outlets; and whether any new legislative provision may be required to address criminality in respect of cash for gold transactions.

As soon as the outcome of this examination of the matter is to hand, the Minister will make an assessment as to what, if any, action, legislative or otherwise, may be required. In making this assessment he will also take into account any constructive proposals that emerge in regard to the matter.

That is a full answer, for which I thank the Minister of State and the Minister for Justice and Law Reform. In particular, it is welcome that the Minister has formally asked the Garda Commissioner to give his views on a very wide range of issues, including whether organised crime is involved in running some of the cash for gold outlets. That is an interesting angle. I imagine it is extremely difficult to prove whether a person has been reckless about knowing whether what he or she has bought was stolen. The provision seems to be inadequate. The other problem with the law, as it stands, is that identification is required only in the sale goods to the value of €15,000 or more. I imagine that in the case of many of exchanges €150 would be a more relevant sum.

Does the Senator have a question?

I merely wish to thank the Minister of State. I do not have a supplementary question to pose, but I look forward to the Commissioner's report to the Minister and the Minister, in turn, letting us know what he envisages doing.