‘Spain has been a home from home for many Irish criminals’
Article by Brian Hayes MEP, which was published on Tuesday 7th June 2016 in the Irish Independent
The recent gangland murders in Dublin highlight the international dimension of serious crime. While murders are taking place on the streets of Dublin, the real decisions as to who can live or die rest with an international syndicate pulling strings from the Costa Del Sol.
It’s patently obvious from recent events that European co-operation in tackling international crime is both dysfunctional and outdated. But more importantly, there has to be a willingness in those counties where they pull the strings to confront and tackle the bosses.
It’s madness to think that we can fight international crime on a ‘member state by member state’ basis any more. Freedom of movement across the EU is an enormous benefit to European society. But the freedom of movement for gangland crime was not the original intention of the EU.
The truth is that for many years now Spain has been a home from home for many British and Irish criminals.
South American drugs cartels, people smugglers and elements of Russian mafia are also attracted to sunny Spain.
In the same way that the international community is finally tackling tax havens, the same rigour should be applied to those countries where criminal syndicates seemingly work and control their organisations from abroad.
It’s not just an issue for Spain. There are other member states of the EU where gangland figures evade arrest. Later this week, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will meet her counterparts from Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium.
It would be wrong also to presume that this problem doesn’t exist in Ireland. But if the international community was asking questions of Ireland as to the presence of a Latvian, Italian or Polish drugs boss in Dublin, I’d like to think that we would take action. I’d like to think that we would care about the reputation of our country.
And that’s the problem. Is enough being done in Spain and elsewhere to sit on those directing crime in Ireland?
There needs to be much more robust co-operation between the gardaí and Spanish police in identifying and targeting Irish criminals based in Spain.
The gangland murders in Dublin are a clear warning to the gardaí and to the public that ‘narco-terrorism’ is now a feature of Irish crime.
Such criminals are ‘outlaws’. They have no respect for life and appear to have no fear of the law. Moving to Spain or elsewhere must never be a means of escaping justice. The gardaí, in association with Europol and other national police services, must be in a position to follow Irish international criminal gangs and disrupt their activities at home and abroad.
The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) worked when it was introduced. An entire generation of criminal bosses was taken out. But it was obvious that another, younger group would take their place and continue to direct operations. Much of that is now happening from abroad.
Today, 20 years after the establishment of CAB, we see Irish gangsters showing off their wealth again – this time with pictures from beaches across Europe on social media. We cannot ignore that murders are being directed from abroad. We need a European version of our CAB to take down the kingpins. And while we are waiting for that, we need other EU member states to take seriously what’s happening in Dublin and elsewhere.
FOUR years ago, Alan Shatter told EU justice ministers as much. Did they listen? No. Instead they decided to simplify the rules that allow EU countries confiscate criminals’ ill-gotten gains after conviction. And that’s the problem. When CAB takes on the gangs in Ireland, there has to be evidence that assets were obtained from criminal conduct and the courts must agree. It’s then up to the people CAB are investigating to prove that the money was earned legally, otherwise the State is entitled to seize it.
That’s not how it works in Europe. Many EU countries want a person to be convicted before they will consider confiscating their illegal cash. I believe this gives criminals the upper hand. The gang leaders can direct and profit from crime while their minions carry out their orders, leaving little evidence to convict the bosses.
I’m not suggesting that some EU agency be given powers without any checks and balances. Ireland and CAB have shown that our system of checks and balances works. The CAB laws have been tested in our courts and they met Ireland’s strict constitutional property rights.
CAB keeps the confiscated money for seven years, to give the person the maximum length of time to prove they got it legally.
In hundreds of CAB cases in the past 20 years, guess how many times the person being investigated proved that they had earned the money legally? Never. As long as confiscation takes place only after conviction, a culture of impunity across the criminal world will continue to apply.
Until we can get all EU countries to choose a CAB-type system, Irish gangsters will continue to flaunt their wealth and direct crime from abroad. An EU-wide CAB-style agency could drive that change and make sure that crime never pays.