Ulster border raids target organised crime

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The Independent Online

Three people were arrested during a massive security operation linked to a major investigation into organised crime on both sides of the Irish border today.

Hundreds of police and soldiers in south Armagh and north Co Louth raided properties and at one stage an area around the family home of Thomas "Slab" Murphy, 62, allegedly the IRA's one-time Chief of Staff, was sealed off.

A garda spokesman said two men, aged in their early 50s and mid-60s, and one woman, aged in her early 50s, were arrested in the multi-agency swoop.

"The operation was lead by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), supported by local units from the Louth/Meath Division and officers from the Special Detective Unit (SDU), Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation (GBFI); Emergency Response Unit (ERU); Garda Technical Bureau; Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) and the Garda Air Support Unit," he said.

"Customs officers, along with officials from the Department of Social and Community Affairs participated in the operation. Approximately 120 personnel were involved."

The spokesman said a simultaneous operation was conducted north of the border, lead by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

"The operation is ongoing and further developments will be advised in course," he added.

One source in Northern Ireland confirmed: "It doesn't get any bigger than this."

Another claimed that a top Provo and who has made millions from smuggling, was the No 1 target.

It is understood an Assets Recovery Agency probe into IRA links to the ownership of 250 properties worth an estimated £9million in the Greater Manchester area was not involved in today's planned operation.

Instead, it was co-ordinated by senior police officers on both sides of the border, backed up by army soldiers.

It is understood up to 50 PSNI officers, as well as soldiers and two British Army helicopters were involved in the northern side.

A PSNI spokeswoman said officers were conducting a series of searches in the South Armagh area in connection with a major intelligence-led investigation into suspected money laundering, fuel laundering and organised crime.

"The planned cross-border operation, which began at 6am this morning, is led by officers from Crime Operations Department's Organised Crime Branch, and supported by Newry and Mourne District Command Unit and Armagh District Command Unit along with colleagues from HM Revenue and Customs, An Garda Siochana and other agencies," she said.

"The operation is ongoing and further information will be made available in due course."

Customs officials from Belfast and 25 from the Republic, some of them belonging to the Special Compliance Unit - which works closely with the Criminal Assets Bureau - were also involved in the operation.

The searches were welcomed by nationalist SDLP Policing Board member Alex Attwood.

The West Belfast Assembly member said: "Today's developments prove the worth of North South policing and North South assets recovery.

"The threat of organised crime recognises no borders and efforts against any gangs or individuals involved can be maximised with cooperation and integration.

"Any crime boss or foot soldier must know there is no hiding place for them on the island."

At the time of the ARA inquires in Manchester last October, Mr Murphy said he did not own any properties and insisted he made his living from farming.

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