Irish broker inquiry on money laundering 'scam'

The City watchdog and Irish police are investigating a firm of stockbrokers in Northern Ireland over allegations it has been involved in a money laundering scam worth at least £8m.

The Financial Services Authority has stopped Northern Ireland Insurance Brokers from operating while the investigation by the Irish police and its Economic Crime Unit takes place, which could take more than six months to complete. The potential scam is thought to be connected to tax evasion, drug running and smuggling cheap petrol and diesel from the Irish republic into the north of Ireland and other parts of the UK.

One client of the brokers is Joe Dolan, Ireland's leading cabaret singer, who has been questioned by the police over allegedly trying to avoid paying tax. There is no suggestion Mr Dolan has been involved in money laundering or any of the present charges.

Northern Ireland Insurance Brokers, which is based in Belfast, is run by Michael Aiken and his son, also called Michael.

The two men were arrested earlier this year and questioned by police, but released without being charged pending further inquiries. Their firm also has an office in the Northern Irish border area of South Armagh.

A spokesman for the brokerage said it denied any wrongdoing, saying: "The firm will be robustly challenging the allegations made by the FSA."

The FSA also believes Northern Ireland Insurance Brokers has helped some clients to use false addresses in their investment dealings, and has handled client money and assets of more than £1.2m without appropriate authorisation.

Police do not believe the activities at Northern Ireland Insurance Brokers have any links with the IRA.

The British authorities have geared up their fight against financial crime in the wake of the 11 September attacks. In its initiative against money laundering, Britain has drawn up a blacklist of organisations whose assets it has ordered frozen, including Irish republican group the Real IRA, Basque separatist group ETA and several Palestinian organisations.