Paramilitary involvement in crime is 'rife'

A report on organized crime in Northern Ireland has said that paramilitary involvement in local criminal groups is rife, with their activity casting a shadow over the province’s economy.

According to the report, released at the Organised Crime conference in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall today, two-thirds of criminal groups identified have paramilitary involvement, with some 700 people engaged in organised crime networks throughout Northern Ireland.

Alcohol and tobacco fraud, extortion, money laundering, dealing in counterfeit goods, drugs, excise fraud and robbery of transit vans are the key areas that characterise organised crime here. However, it is estimated that smuggling is the most widespread and lucrative activity carried out by paramilitary groups.

The report alleged that Protestant gangs run about 80% of extortion rackets against commercial and business premises, using fear, threats and intimidation in demanding protection money.

Speaking at the conference, Assistant Chief Constable Chris Albiston, deputy commander of the PSNI said: “The exact scale and scope of extortion and racketeering is hard to assess, but it is widespread in Northern Ireland and its impact on businesses, individuals and the community as a whole is significant.”

Ron Goldstock, a New York organized crime expert, said the underground organisations in Northern Ireland had many advantages over "ordinary'' criminals.

He added: “The groups start off with a bad reputation and there's enormous value in having a bad reputation. It's the fear factor.''

Today on the third day of the conference, Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth, responsible for tackling organised crime, said: “Organised criminality exists for one reason and that is to make money and to make profit and they don’t care about orders.”

He added: "You're organised criminality in Northern Ireland will co-operate with the UK mainland, with Ireland and the European continent.

"We need to do the same unless we can break down the barriers to effective joint working between agencies and between different countries then we're not going to be as effective as we can be."


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