Criminals have been buying up ground around Kildare, says Cab boss
International mafia money is being routed through Ireland concealed in massive hedge funds, according to the head of the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab).
Russian mafia money is hard to detect because it is hidden in high value investment funds that are often routed through international institutions in the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC).
Eugene Corcoran, chief superintendent of the Cab, said: "That money is in circulation. It does not tend to be the subject of much investigation here because it tends to be hidden in large international funds.
"They tend to be disguised in very large investment funds that are routed through here from time to time through international banks in the IFSC, but don't tend to be the subject of requests for assistance (from overseas police forces)," he said.
"Very often it can prove quite a difficult task to monitor that because you are dealing with very large funds that are otherwise genuine."
He said the most significant difference between the work of the bureau today and 10 or 15 years ago is that is the level of international cooperation with forces overseas.
"There is practically no case now that does not have some international dimension to it," he said.
The introduction of stringent international money laundering rules in recent years has forced Irish criminals back to the bad old days of smuggling cash out of the country in hold-alls.
"There is an increased amount of cash getting out of the country in notes and currency," said Mr Corcoran.
"Drug dealers have gone back to the cruder way of moving money, because of the tightening of banking regulations. There is a move back to moving money out ... more frequently and in small amounts, particularly along the border."
According to Mr Corcoran, investment in land - as opposed to houses - is also becoming a bit of a theme. Land is often cheaper, often maintenance-free and is less likely to attract attention. One group of criminals is investing heavily at the moment on sites in parts of Kildare.
"There is a quite a pattern developing there in north Kildare and we are trying to do something about that," he said.
"This is emerging over the last couple of years. They see it as a good way of avoiding making cash deposits or accumulating cash and there is a speculative element to it as well," he said.
The bureau is also targeting professionals who are helping criminals to hide their money.
"They are getting advice from professionals to structure their investments in a particular way," he said, adding that "there are a number of accountants and solicitors who they can go to, who know exactly what they are dealing with."
The latest annual report, published last week, showed that Cab seized over €10m in illicit proceeds in 2014. Almost €4m returned to the state and €6.5m in assets were frozen. Social welfare overpayments of €655,641 in jobseeker's allowance and €275,998 in disability allowance were also recovered.
The annual report disclosed the money the agency seized from the underworld, and also how criminals are trying to hide it.
Travelling crime gangs in particular are choosing mid-range cars, like Nissans and Hondas, a number of which were seized in 2014.
"People might wonder why some of the cars are of mediocre value, of around €15,000 to €20,000, whereas ordinarily you might expect the very high-end cars are the ones being seized," said Mr Corcoran.
"We noticed a change of pattern as a tactic really, adopted by gangs. They don't want to suffer the loss of a high-end car so they deliberately decide to downgrade themselves."