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A busy year for the Bureau: The Criminal Assets Bureau (“CAB”) issues annual report for 2019

Maria Curran
29/06/2020

Locations

Ireland

Background

CAB is a an independent statutory body established under the Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996 with a statutory remit to carry out investigations in order to identify, trace and seize the proceeds of crime. Proceeds of crime means any property obtained or received at any time (whether before or after the passing of the Proceeds of Crime Acts 1996 to 2016) by, or as a result of, or in connection with criminal conduct.[1] CAB has strong powers that it employs regularly, and is viewed by many countries as a leader in the asset seizure regime. CAB has drawn on the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 as amended, together with Revenue and Social Welfare legislation in its pursuit of the proceeds of crime.

The Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act 2016 provides CAB with the power to seize property that it reasonably suspects to be the proceeds of crime and detain it for 24 hours. The Chief Bureau Officer is empowered by the Act to authorise its detention for a further 21 days. This period allows CAB to prepare an application to the High Court for an interim restraining order and prevent the disposal or dissipation of the property in the meantime. Under the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act 2016, the threshold for invoking the Act was reduced from €13,000 to €5,000, significantly extending CAB's reach. As such, CAB can target assets of high-level organised crime figures as well as having an impact by intervening early with mid-level criminals, with the aim of inhibiting their progression and addressing local community concerns.

The Financial Action Taskforce (the “FATF”) is the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog that sets international standards that aims to prevent these illegal activities and the harm they cause to society. In the FATF’s 2017 Mutual Evaluation of Ireland, Ireland was criticised by the FATF who noted that while asset confiscation initiatives have strong political and national support, the value of criminal proceeds confiscated and forfeited appeared modest for a jurisdiction that pursues confiscation of criminal proceeds as a national priority.[2] Ireland has committed to reviewing and strengthening its asset confiscation legislation, procedures and policies in relation to international asset freezing, seizing, confiscation and sharing of assets and has committed to target high-level organised crime figures and complex financial crime.

The publication of CAB’s 2019 annual report on 25 June 2020 demonstrates CAB’s continued commitment to make efforts to focus more on high-value/complex crime and liaise with international crime investigation agencies to target proceeds of foreign criminality.

Highlights of 2019

Cases commenced
  • The annual report highlights 31 new applications brought before the High Court under the Proceeds of Crime legislation, which marks a period of continued growth in new cases. This is the largest number of proceeds of crime cases commenced in a single year since the inception of the CAB. Of the cases commenced, all cases were initiated by issuing proceedings by way of originating motion under section 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996. The majority of these actions were taken against assets gained from the proceeds of drug trafficking, followed by actions relating to frauds and thefts of various categories.
Funds returned to the exchequer
  • Using their statutory powers, in 2019 bureau officers returned in excess of €3.9m to the central fund, including:
    • €1.559 million under the Proceeds of Crime legislation;
    • €2.026 million collected under Revenue legislation; and
    • €324,000 in Social Welfare recoveries.
Asset freezing
 
  • The value of assets frozen under section 2(1) during 2019 was €64.9 million, compared to €8.4 million in 2018, an increase due in the main to the granting of a freezing order over cryptocurrency to the value of €53 million.
  • The reduction of the threshold under the new legislation in 2016 contributed to the seizure of an additional 186% of assets in 2019 over 2016.  
Cryptocurrency
  • CAB continues to target emerging trends such as the use of cryptocurrency for asset transfer and international fraud. 
  • CAB has trained digital specialists who have the capability to seize and take control of cryptocurrency. They have been called upon to help other law enforcement agencies throughout Europe and beyond. CAB is recognised as one of the foremost law enforcement agencies with its ability to investigate, seize, retain and dispose of cryptocurrencies.  
  • A freezing order was granted over cryptocurrency to the value of €53 million. The High Court ruled that the bitcoin, owned by Clifton Collins, was the proceeds of drug profits and should be surrendered. The bitcoin seizure is understood to be the largest single-value asset ever seized by CAB
Revenue actions
  • Revenue Bureau Officers perform duties in accordance with the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, Value-Added Tax Consolidation Act 2010, Capital Acquisitions Tax Consolidation Act 2003, the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999, Local Property Tax Act 2012 as amended (the “Tax Acts”) to ensure that the proceeds of crime or suspected crime, are subject to tax.
  • Revenue Bureau Officers assessed a total of 50 individuals and companies under the provisions of the Tax Acts, resulting in a total tax figure of €11.7million. Tax demands were served in respect of 23 individuals and corporate entities to the value of €5.8 million.
Social welfare actions
  • The role of Social Welfare Bureau Officers (SWBOs) is to take all necessary actions under the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, pursuant to its functions as set out in section 5(1)(c) of the Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996.    In carrying out these functions, SWBOs investigate and determine entitlement to social welfare payments by any person engaged in criminal activity.
  • In relation to Social Welfare investigations, a number of individuals had their payments either terminated or reduced, resulting in a total savings of €2,336,430.15.
International developments
  • CAB continues to play an important role in the context of law enforcement at an international level. CAB is the designated Asset Recovery Office (ARO) in Ireland. Following a European Council Decision in 2007, Asset Recovery Offices were established throughout the EU to allow for the exchange of intelligence between law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation, identification and confiscation of assets deemed to be the proceeds of criminal conduct. 
  • During 2019, CAB received 99 requests for assistance. CAB was able to provide information in respect all of these requests. The requests were received from 17 different countries within the EU. CAB itself sent 51 requests to 36 different countries worldwide from which it has received replies.
  • During 2019, CAB was involved in a number of investigations relating to criminal conduct by organised crime groups along the border with Northern Ireland. CAB continues to develop its relationship with a number of law enforcement agencies with cross‐ jurisdictional links, most notably, Interpol, Europol, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the National Crime Agency in the UK and the CARIN Network.  
A full copy of CAB’s 2019 Annual Report can be viewed here.
 

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[1] Section 1, Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and Section 3, Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act 2005
[2] FATF (2017), Anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing measures - Ireland,
Fourth Round Mutual Evaluation Report, FATF, Paris www.fatfgafi.org/publications/mutualevaluations/documents/mer-ireland-2017.html

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