07 October 2005

BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | Farmer's 'criminal links unfair'

BBC

A County Louth farmer, widely thought to be the head of the IRA, is being unfairly linked to criminal activity, according to Sinn Fein.

Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy said there was no evidence to suggest 250 properties being probed in Manchester belonged to Thomas "Slab" Murphy.

The investigation is being led by the Assets Recovery Agency.

Mr Murphy said elements within the agency had given "selective briefings" in an attempt to "point the finger".

He said: "I read the statement from the Assets Recovery Agency which was quite vague and bland and doesn't refer even to any republican at all, much less Mr Murphy.

"What we have is the Assets Recovery Agency issuing a statement about what they are doing.

"But then elements or individuals within the Assets Recovery Agency, who have a Special Branch background, have been giving selective and private briefings to some journalists to try to point the finger at different people."

Documents were seized in the Manchester searches, which took place 10 days after the IRA put its weapons beyond use and on the day Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams met Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street.

Meanwhile, separate searches took place in the Republic of Ireland connected to the probe into illegally held IRA funds.

Seven offices in County Louth were searched by officers from the Criminal Assets Bureau.

A quantity of documents were seized during the raids but no arrests were made.

Border farm

In a statement, Irish police said that they were "familiar" with the operations currently being conducted in the United Kingdom by the Assets Recovery Agency.

It added: "An Garda Siochana, through the Criminal Assets Bureau, have been working with the ARA for a number of months in respect of this and other investigations."

The gardai said that the operation in the Republic of Ireland, which began on Thursday, is continuing.

Murphy lost a libel case against The Sunday Times in 1998, after the newspaper described him as a prominent IRA member.

The authorities on both sides of the border have been investigating him for years.

Murphy describes himself as a County Louth farmer. The family property is in an area straddling the border with the Irish Republic at Hackballscross.

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