Sunday, 8 December 2002

Crime lords go free as witnesses face threats of violence

By Jim Cusack

Sunday December 08 2002
Over 30 murders directly linked to organised crime in Dublin over the past five years remain unsolved, writes Jim Cusack

IT IS becoming almost impossible to get good witnesses to testify against figures involved in organised crime in Dublin and to a lesser extent Limerick as a result of increasing fear of reprisal, according to senior detectives.

Dublin-based gangs appear to have succeeded in striking sufficient fear into people so that they are no longer prepared to given evidence.

As a result, virtually every gangland execution in recent years has gone unsolved and detectives now admit that the chance of gaining convictions in these cases has become increasingly slim.

The State witness protection scheme is extremely limited it only applies to three witnesses in the Veronica Guerin case and a fourth man who was a Real IRA informant for the garda and has a budget of around €1 million annually.

Detectives admit it is now virtually impossible to get associates or even members of the public to testify in gangland murder cases.

One of the last people to give evidence against organised criminals was a young south Dublin woman who testified against a man earlier this year. The witness gave evidence about a serious assault, despite repeated threats to her life and the life of her partner.

She was not afforded garda protection and as a result of the threats was forced to move home and virtually go on the run, moving from one B&B to another. The experience cause her desperate strain and for a while wrecked the couple's relationship.

The example of this woman's experience has not helped to encourage others to come forward as witnesses.

It is known that in another case murder charges were withdrawn when a south Dublin man decided against testifying against a major criminal figure.

There are now over 30 unsolved gangland murders in Dublin since mid-1997. Detectives admit that there is little chance that any of the murders will come to trial because of lack of evidence.

The lack of successful prosecutions has also encouraged gangs to resort to violence to settle disputes and gardai say they expect more killings.

There are serious unresolved disputes involving gangs in Ronanstown, Ballyfermot and Drimnagh. All those involved are men in their twenties who are running heroin and cocaine.

The Dublin West Division has 11 unsolved murders and Dublin South Division has seven in the past 18 months. The majority of the suspects are members of, or associated with, drugs gangs.

Most of the drug gang members are themselves users of cocaine and gardai say this is fuelling the violence. It also explains why many of the gun attacks are unsuccessful as the young gunmen are heavily under the influence of drugs, which tends to make them excitable and jittery.

Garda successes have been limited to making arrests where the main suspects are caught red-handed for offences including possession of firearms or drugs. Three gang leaders aged in their mid-twenties have been imprisoned this year and this has led to a reduction in the amount of serious violence.

The Dublin gangs also appear to have becoming increasingly sharp about how they manage their finances in order to avoid seizure of their cash and property.

The introduction of the Criminal Assets Bureau has caused the main criminal figures to leave Ireland. But gardai say these figures are still the main source of drugs being smuggled back into Ireland.

The Criminal Assets Bureau has also fewer than 30 detectives and is concentrating its efforts on targeting figures who have made large sums of money from criminal activity.

This year, the Bureau has asked detective units around Dublin to begin supplying it with information about "secondary level" criminals and a number of cases have been mounted against drug dealers who have tangible assets.

The older criminals living abroad are dealing with old associates who have stayed at home as their points of contact. The Dublin criminals in early middle age are believed to be working on a commission basis and have appointed young deputies to carry out the distribution work.

The drugs business is booming. A recent criminal intelligence report to senior gardai stated that the "client base" for illegal drugs in Dublin has probably reached its highest-ever levels. The rise in cocaine abuse has been the most significant factor in the rise in illicit earnings from drug trafficking.

Garda report that it is being sold in very large quantities in Dublin pubs and clubs. Heroin is still highly profitable and Dublin detectives say that a credit system is now operating in the city whereby addicts are becoming increasingly indebted to traffickers which is increasing the pressure on addicts to target and begin selling heroin to new users.

This system even reaches into prisons where the gangs are supplying addicts on a credit basis in return for repayment or services on their release. The use of the credit system also reduces the traffickers' cash flow which might otherwise have been targeted by the garda. Senior detectives say the Dublin gangs have also begun avoiding attempts to launder cash or even buy property with their earnings.

Instead they are moving their cash to either Amsterdam or Spain where it is suspected it is being invested in property or other investments. CAB would be unable to seize property assets in other EU countries which do not have similar legislation.

Garda sources say that while there is co-operation between EU police forces in respect of identified drugs smuggling operations, there is little that can be done about mounting surveillance on Irish criminals living in countries such as The Netherlands or Spain so long as they appear to be behaving themselves.

- Jim Cusack