Monday, 13 September 2010

Cash seizures on the rise as gangs try to get money out of country

12The €676,000 found in a suitcase in Dublin airport in March 2008.Compartments used to conceal cash in a van seized by customs officers. Cash seizures by Revenue customs officers have increased to record levelsIn this section »
C LALLY, Crime Correspondent
BACKGROUND: The proceeds of drug dealing, fuel and cigarette smuggling form the bulk of money intercepted by customs officials
EUGENE JUDE Murphy came very close to pulling it off. He had secured his boarding pass, checked in his luggage and cleared customs and security at Dublin airport without incident.
There remained only the last hurdle of simply getting on the plane to Portugal before picking up his bags at the other end and getting out of the airport as quickly as he could.
Things seemed to be going away. But a sniffer dog called Storm had other ideas.
Just as Murphy’s bags, and those of his fellow passengers on his Lisbon-bound flight, were about to be lifted on to the plane on the tarmac, a customs officer decided to give Storm one last run over the load.
The dog, which specialises in identifying large quantities of cash by sniffing out the ink on bank notes, quickly focused on one piece of luggage: Murphy’s.
The baggage was plucked from the pile and opened for searching. Customs officers found a false bottom in the case. Into it had been packed bundles of used bank notes, €279,450 to be precise.
When questioned about the haul, Murphy refused to answer any questions as to its origins. Two years later, on April 15th last, Revenue’s customs officers went to the High Court and successfully argued the cash was the proceeds of crime.
They were granted a forfeiture order by Ms Justice Katherine Delahunt and the money was transferred to State coffers.
In the last number of years such cash smuggling cases involving the proceeds of crime have come to light much more frequently.
Many of those caught carrying the money when it is seized are trusted couriers working for large gangs. Others are people who have agreed to do a cash smuggling run for a gang to pay a debt or because they are in fear.
After the initial seizure of the cash, most cases progress to the forfeiture stage in the High Court unopposed by the couriers or those who own the money.
There is now a record number of cases coming before the courts for forfeiture hearings. There were 21 this year so far, relating to €2.2 million in seized cash.
The number of cash seizures by Revenue, mostly at airports and ports, has also increased to record levels; 31 cases to date in 2010 compared with 34 cases in all of last year.
The largest seizure occurred on March 15th, 2008, at Dublin airport. When Irishman Mark Lee was stopped as he was about to catch a flight to Brussels, his suitcase was found to be full of bundles of bank notes and nothing else.
When the haul was counted it came to €676,625. Lee admitted he was delivering the money on behalf of an unnamed drug dealer. On January 21st last the High Court approved the forfeiture of the cash to the State.
Denis Twohig, an assistant principal in Revenue’s Customs Investigations Unit, says while much of the seized money is linked to drug dealing, fuel and cigarette smugglers, prostitutes and credit card fraudsters have also been caught.
The sums range from €7,000 to almost €700,000 per seizure.
He says while many of those acting as cash couriers will have an excuse prepared in the event they are caught, others simply surrender the money and answer no questions about its origins.
“Generally, the money is being moved from the State to purchase further quantities of drugs and so on. It’s also likely the money is being moved to fund lifestyles [of criminals living abroad].”
An examination of the 21 cases concluded in the High Court so far this year reveals many cash seizures were made from passengers about to leave Ireland on flights to Malaga, the gateway to southern Spain where many Irish gang leaders are based.
Two years ago two women from Dublin’s south inner city were stopped and searched as they were boarding flights to Malaga. They were carrying a combined total of over €30,000.
One said her portion was to be used to fund cosmetic surgery while the other claimed her share was for a property investment.
The money, which customs believe was destined for a Spanish-based member of one of Dublin’s Crumlin-Drimnagh feuding drugs gangs, was confiscated. It has since been forfeited to the State.
In another case the wife of a convicted brothel keeper – 65-year-old Paul Humphreys, originally from Cork – was found with €26,775 at Dublin airport in November 2005.
She was about to board a flight to her Cyprus home, via Italy, when she was stopped. The money was forfeited to the State in the High Court in March after it was found to be the proceeds of crime.
Among others stopped with money which was later forfeited to the State were the brothers of two murdered drug dealers.
Aaron Ennis from Clondalkin, whose brother Keith Ennis was found dismembered in a suitcase in an Amsterdam canal in March 2009, was found to be carrying €29,500 when stopped in Dublin airport bound for Malaga in July 2008.
Damien Coddington from Drogheda, Co Louth, was found with €37,000 from the proceeds of crime as he was about to board a plane at Dublin airport to Amsterdam in June 2008. He is a brother of Roy Coddington, a drug dealer who was shot dead in Drogheda in March 2007.

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