The Irish property crash has been all-pervasive and the ripples of its effects are being felt in some unusual corners.  One of these recesses is the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), who recently published their annual report for 2008.  Although the report suggests that CAB has continued to be an effective mechanism against organised crime, it also notes that

“During the year the Bureau noted a significant downturn both in the value of real property and motor vehicles which were subject to its orders.  The Bureau proposes to consult with the Department of Finance to consider whether alternative methods of disposing of such assets may be of more benefit to the state”

This consultation has borne fruit in the form of a proposed expansion of the range of powers available to CAB Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has set up an expert group to carry out a review of the functions of CAB.  The Minister is responding to such pressing issues in earnest, and a transformation of current legislation is surely on the cards.  Speaking about his decision the Minister suggested that “While the legislation underpinning the work of Cab has been hugely successful, I believe that it is timely to see whether the law in this area can be strengthened further”.  Chief among the proposed changes is a reduction in the seven-year limit which currently must elapse before CAB can dispose of assets frozen under their powers.  Basically this would allow them to flip properties sooner, before house prices fall any further.  This provision is accentuated by other proposals which aim to enhance the speed at which CAB can exact its powers of receivership and seizure and expand the remit of who the Bureau can target.

These changes appear to have been handled primarily as a revenue issue, rather than a matter of law and order.  The crux of the argument does not seem to be that these changes will allow CAB to affect its work in a more efficient manner (although undoubtedly it will do this also) but that the state can see maximum financial benefit from the assets seized.  It now seems that CAB is looked upon as a legitimate and anticipated source of exchequer income.  If only those pesky criminals had invested in gold bullion instead of making risky interventions in the property market, perhaps the country would be a lot better off.

Cian O’ Callaghan

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