Sunday Life

Yule lose £3.5m, ARA tells Ulster gangsters

By Alan Murray
02 October 2004

The Assets Recovery Agency hopes to seize a further £3.5m in property and cash from paramilitary and crime figures over the next four months.

Legal cases being prepared will make it a very unhappy Christmas for a few key figures, according to informed sources.

Under public pressure to move against gangsters dripping with gold and driving top-of-the-range 4x4s, ARA staff have been beavering away at more than 20 cases.

The most high-profile case to date surrounds the estate of murdered Red Hand Commando boss, Jim 'Johnty' Johnston, where investigators seized £1.2m in assets.

Last year, the ARA was processing 19 live cases. An ARA source said last week that five of these were at the High Court stage, while a further five had been forwarded to the Inland Revenue to pursue.

In April, convicted armed robber Cecil Walsh lost a High Court action challenging the Proceeds of Crime Act under human rights legislation. Walsh, who has 132 criminal convictions, had attempted to recover around £85,000 in assets seized by the agency.

His assets, which included a house, were among the £3m seized by the ARA in its first full year of operation.

It is expected to exceed that figure in the current financial year.

The ARA source said: "Eleven of the 19 cases referred to the agency have been taken to High Court stage or passed to the Inland Revenue, with one totally concluded - the Johnston case.

"The PSNI has forwarded a further 17 new cases to us, which means we have now 25 live investigations at various stages of progress."

Despite the successes, many politicians and the public still complain over the apparent wealth of many loyalist and republican figures.

ARA boss Alan McQuillan has pointed out that assets worth £300,000, and believed to have been accumulated through fuel-smuggling in south Armagh, were frozen.

He has also stressed that more assets belonging to the gangsters would come into the ARA's grasp.

The ARA source added: "We can't provide any details of those who are being investigated because of the legislation, and we said that the seizure of these ill-gotten gains across the province will take time.

"We have started that process and it will be unrelenting, regardless of whether the target is a paramilitary from either side, or part of one of the many criminal gangs here."

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