Ulster faces rise in racketeer gangs

Racketeers who bankroll the activities of Northern Ireland's paramilitaries are operating more and more in mainland Britain, MPs warned yesterday.

A warning over the rise in smuggling, money laundering, drug-running, armed robbery, counterfeiting and fraud was delivered by the Northern Ireland Affairs select committee.

It estimated republican and loyalist terrorists were raising up to £18m a year through organised crime. The Provisional IRA – reputed to employ professional accountants to manage its criminal empire – is thought to rake in as much as £8m from criminal activity.

According to police figures, the breakaway Real IRA makes £5m a year and the Loyalist Volunteer Force raises about £2m a year through criminal rackets.

The committee said: "Some of the revenues go to fund individual criminal lifestyles. The remainder buys propaganda and weapons that help terrorists maintain their dominance, often violent, of local communities.

"A particularly vicious strain of organised crime has flourished in Northern Ireland in recent years. Some of it is now being exported to and taking root in other parts of the United Kingdom."

Some groups, particularly the Real IRA, found the marketplace in Ireland was so saturated they were turning to the mainland. The MPs said police had identified 76 organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland this year. Nearly half of them were linked to paramilitary groups.

Criminal profits were so lucrative there were cases of paramilitaries from opposite sides working together, with one loyalist group found to have bought £50,000 of cigar-ettes from the IRA.

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