BusinessCompany NewsCommons plea to safeguard accountants’ anonymity

Commons plea to safeguard accountants' anonymity

The Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has made an urgent plea to the government to grant anonymity to accountants and others working for the Assets Recovery Agency, the new body set up to seize terror funding under the Proceeds of Crime Bill.

The committee rushed-out report warned that an equivalent body in Eire had to deal with criminals with paramilitary connections who have evaded law enforcement by verbal and physical intimidation of officials, adding that ‘on occasion extreme violence has been used’.

The hasty plea to the government to amend the legislation – introduced following the terrorist attacks on America in September last year – is because the work of the Agency will include Northern Ireland.

The CNIAC said the Republic of Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau had been ‘very successful’ seizing around £50m because personnel were protected by statutory anonymity backed by the threat of up to three years in jail for disclosure.

Officials are vouched for by the Guarda – the Irish police force – during searches, their identities are disclosed only to judges during the proceedings and letters are signed by the bureau, not by individuals.

Currently there is no provision in the Proceeds of Crime legislation protecting the anonymity of staff working for the agency.

The CNIAC said: ‘An unfortunate consequence of the peace process is that paramilitaries appear to be turning increasingly to organised crime to prolong their organisations’ existence and influence within the community’.

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