The 15th IMC report has been published online – pdf file here – covering paramilitary activity in “the six month period from 1 September 2006 to 28 February 2007, adding to and updating the assessment we gave in our Thirteenth Report for the months of September, October and November 20064 and focusing on December 2006 and January and February 2007.”The IMC has this to say on the UDA and UVF
4.12 In the new situation in Northern Ireland, with the impending establishment of a devolved Executive and restoration of the Assembly, and with the fundamental changes PIRA has made in the past two years, it is essential to move much further, and to do so with urgency. Loyalist paramilitaries – and this applies as much to the UVF as to the UDA – cannot argue that they are acting in defence of their own communities. Still less can they say that it is on behalf of those communities that they extort money from local businesses, drive away investment, poison young people with drugs and intimidate citizens. If their leaderships do not demonstrate that they are capable of implementing fundamental change very quickly it will show that their organisations are no more than ill-controlled and violent criminal gangs, which should expect to be treated as such.
And the report also focusses on the issue of the recovery of criminal assets
5. THE RECOVERY OF CRIMINAL ASSETS
5.1 In previous reports we have commented on assets recovery and on the role it is able to play in combating paramilitary activity. We have referred in some detail to the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) and the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB). We have drawn attention to the importance of all law enforcement agencies maximising the benefits of assets recovery in combating paramilitary groups; to the value of North-South co-operation between ARA and CAB; and to the need to ensure that ARA is properly resourced for its work in Northern Ireland, including
5.2 Two issues have recently arisen which prompt us to return to this subject now: the position of ARA and the exchange of information between the UK and Ireland.
5.3 On the first, the British Government recently announced that ARA would become part of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and legislation to give effect to this decision is presently before Parliament. We welcome the assurances of the Home Secretary that under the new arrangements there will be no diminution of assets recovery work in Northern Ireland and the recognition that local priorities in Northern Ireland, which will not always match those in England and Wales, will continue to be taken into account. There will be provisions in the new
arrangements to ensure close consultation with the authorities in Northern Ireland, including the Organised Crime Task Force. We also understand that it is the intention to keep an office in Belfast. It is important that its primary focus remains on assets recovery in Northern Ireland.
5.4 The second issue arises because of the terms of the legislation whereby the two separate British departments for customs and revenue were combined in 2005 to create HM Revenue and Customs. A result is that staff in the new department are no longer legally able to share information in respect of civil cases with authorities in other jurisdictions, including those in Ireland, as were those in HM Customs before the amalgamation. This does not affect other law enforcement agencies such as the police, but customs officials are key players in the fight to
deprive criminals of the assets they have illegally acquired. The sharing of information is the life blood of international co-operation and it is vital that it can flow freely. We understand that the British Government intends to rectify this situation and has identified a suitable legislative vehicle to confer on the new department powers previously available to HM Customs. However it is likely to be in excess of twelve months before the relevant legislation takes effect though we understand that efforts are being made to look at alternative measures to resolve this
problem. We think that the nature of this difficulty is such that it needs to be resolved sooner.
5.5 From our perspective as the body charged with the responsibility of monitoring the continuing activities of all paramilitary groups, we attach as much importance as we did before to effective assets recovery work. We see it as a key part of the law enforcement activity both against the groups themselves and against former members of the groups who may still be engaged in serious crime. It is also important to remember that illicitly obtained funds remain illegal and subject to seizure, even if they have been “laundered”. [added emphasis]
5.6 The existence of the border also creates a unique situation in these islands, both in terms of opportunities for criminals and so far as the importance of international cooperation is concerned. It is essential in our view that the paramilitary dimension of the work is not lost from view and that the assurances which have been given should continue to have full effect in the long term. And we think it is vital that the full extent of the previous capacity to exchange information between the British and Irish authorities is restored as soon as possible. We imagine that the restored Assembly will wish to pay close attention to both these matters. We recognise also that once policing and justice are devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly it will be for them to consider whether the new arrangements are sufficient to meet the needs or whether a Northern Ireland criminal assets bureau might be required.