10 March 2006

Several computers found during massive swoop along border

Irish Independent

Tom Brady
10 March 2006

LAPTOP computers, which could be the key to unlocking the IRA's multi-million euro war chest, were found under bales of hay yesterday.

The discovery was made after the biggest cross-Border operation targeting the homeland of the IRA's chief of staff, Tom 'Slab' Murphy.

The operation was aimed at striking a deadly blow to the heart of the IRA's financial empire. Thousands of documents and computers were seized for detailed examination.

The raids were spearheaded by the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Northern Assets Recovery Agency (ARA). Over 400 personnel were involved.

Detectives from the gardai and the PSNI carried out checks at Murphy's home which straddles the border at Ballybinaby which is between Hackballscross and Crossmaglen.

Murphy (56) was not at home when the house was raided and the area was sealed off as detailed searches were completed.

On this side of the border gardai searched nine properties including Murphy's own house, his family home, houses occupied by several others living nearby and the offices of a solicitor's firm in Dundalk.

In the North police searched six houses and businesses in Crossmaglen and the nearby village of Keady and officers also served orders on several businessmen, requiring them to provide full audits of their accounts to the anti-racketeering authorities.

Thirty boxes of documents were taken away for inspection along with the computers that had been located in a hayshed.

Gardai seized around €250,000 in sterling and euro, 30,000 cigarettes and 8,000 gallons of diesel.

They also found a diesel laundering unit located on one of the farms, three fuel trucks, a larger truck with a fuel container concealed on its trailer, and two shotguns.

Two men who tried to avoid a road checkpoint were trailed by gardai and spotted by the air support unit who kept watch in a helicopter until the suspects were arrested.

At one stage the helicopter was thought to have strayed across the border while observing the suspects but the incident was later described as minor.

Two men and a woman who is married to one of them were questioned by gardai after the raids.

The three, who are in their 50s and 60s, were later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the DPP.

In the North, Chief Supt Bobby Hunniford said his forces seized a dozen fuel trucks and about €29,000 but made no arrests.

He said locals were "sick and tired of living in fear of the organised criminals among them". Almost 120 personnel were involved in the operation on the southern side. The CAB team was backed up by local units from the Louth-Meath division, the Special Branch, Emergency Response Unit, national fraud bureau, garda technical bureau, national bureau of criminal investigation, air support unit, Customs officers and officials from the Department of Social and Community Affairs.

More than 250 police, British troops and Customs officers took part across the border.

The operation followed months of planning supervised by the head of CAB, Det Chief Supt Felix McKenna and the ARA boss, Alan McQuillan.

It follows a major joint operation last October which culminated in raids on a €44m property portfolio in Manchester and a dozen properties in Dundalk.

Slab Murphy later denied any connection with that property.

The operation was based on intelligence that had been built up over the past four years by police on both sides and represented the first significant blow at the massive smuggling trade being run from south Armagh.

Security risks in the past have restricted the activities of the police in south Armagh.

But senior anti-terrorist officers were determined to smash the smuggling trade which was estimated to provide a very substantial portion of the finances needed for the day to day running of the Provisionals as well as building up a "war chest" to pay for the development of Sinn Fein as a political party north and south.

Last night officers said it would take several months to examine all of the documentation and the information downloaded from the computers.

But the operation was described as a significant success which was likely to have major implications.

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