Sunday Business Post (thepost.ie)

Heist puts heat on Sinn Fein

26 December 2004
By Barry O'Kelly

Government negotiators will raise the record €31 million Northern Bank heist with Sinn Féin early in the New Year.

Garda Special Branch sources this weekend disputed the IRA's denial of involvement in the Belfast robbery.

Sinn Féin has said it “accepts what the IRA is saying, that it was not involved'‘.

However, Special Branch officers insisted that last Monday's raid was carried out by republicans, who are current or recently-retired members of the IRA.

The sources alleged that there was a South Armagh connection.

The government is understood to be receiving daily security updates from senior garda officers.

There is believed to be serious concern in government circles about the meticulously-planned heist.

“There are strong suspicions that republicans were involved,” said a government source. “Everything points in that direction. It will be taken up with Sinn Féin at the next meeting.”

The Criminal Assets Bureau will play a leading role in the hunt for the gang in the Republic. The investigations will be concentrated on cash trading around the border, detectives said.

The bureau has already contacted financial institutions to warn them about transactions in Northern currency.

A Special Branch officer claimed: “There's little doubt who did it. But it's going to be very difficult to catch them.”

Sources maintained that mobile phone activity by senior IRA men last Sunday and Monday in Belfast had heightened suspicions.

Sources claimed that up to 40 people were likely to have had some part to play in the elaborate raid.

It is believed that there were striking similarities with a heist on a smaller scale from a Securicor van two months ago in Downpatrick, Co Down.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has not discounted the possible involvement of two crime gangs, the INLA in Strabane and a UDA unit in Belfast. However, garda and republican sources said these groups lacked the expertise required.

The PSNI carried out raids on the homes and businesses of republican suspects in Belfast this weekend.

Garda said the robbery exposed a massive security failure by the PSNI. “It was a real blunder,” a senior garda said.

The PSNI admitted that it had received a tip-off about the robbers' white van during the raid.

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