16 April 2005

Belfast Telegraph

Searches are part of probe into money

By Jonathan McCambridge, Crime Correspondent
jmccambridge@belfasttelegraph.co.uk
16 April 2005

Searches at the home of a UUP MLA are part of the same police operation which has seen the arrests of a deposed UDA figure and one of Belfast's leading estate agents.

Detectives removed a computer, bank statements, credit cards and mobile phones from the Gilnahirk Road home of Michael Copeland - a former chairman of Castlereagh District Policing Partnership.

They also visited his office at the headquarters of Castlereagh District Council and his Assembly office on the Albertbridge Road.

A police spokeswoman confirmed the searches were part of the major ongoing PSNI operation against an alleged money laundering ring.

She said: "As part of our investigation into money laundering police have carried out a number of searches in east Belfast and Castlereagh.

"Two Production Orders have been executed under the Proceeds of Crime Act in the Castlereagh and North Down areas."

The past fortnight has seen several raids by police investigating alleged money laundering.

Former Ulster Defence Association godfather, Jim Gray (47), was the first to be arrested - just days after he was ousted as one of the six so-called ruling "brigadiers" at the helm of the paramilitary group.

The flamboyant loyalist has been charged with possessing and concealing criminal property.

His girlfriend , 34-year-old Sharon Moss has also been charged with 16 counts of money laundering.

Prominent Belfast estate agent, Philip Johnston (39) - who runs a chain of six branches in the city - has also been charged with involvement in money laundering.

They have all denied the charges.

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