herald

Wednesday 13 November 2019

CAB's secret cash probe into gang linked to 39 trafficking truck deaths

The container lorry where 39 people were found dead
The container lorry where 39 people were found dead
Officers from the CAB have been investigating

The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) has been secretly investigating the finances of a cross-border gang suspected of organising the human trafficking operation that led to the deaths of 39 migrants in a refrigerated container.

The CAB launched the probe last year after receiving intelligence that the criminal group was amassing significant wealth from various types of smuggling, including people smuggling.

The bureau has been profiling the crime group's significant assets, which are thought to include legitimate businesses and properties, according to informed sources.

Smuggling

However, its financial investigations have intensified significantly in recent days, as evidence mounts that the Irish gang was central to the smuggling operation that caused 31 men and eight women to perish.

The bureau is also assisting international police forces in investigating the financial transactions underpinning each stage of the global trafficking operation. The bodies of 39 Asian migrants were discovered in the early hours of Wednesday morning, shortly after the container arrived by ferry from Zeebrugge at the port of Purfleet, Essex.

Maurice 'Mo' Robinson, a 25-year-old truck driver from Portadown, Co Armagh, was charged on Saturday with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering. He was one of five people from the island of Ireland to be arrested in connection with the crime. Three other people arrested in connection with the investigation were released without charge and are on bail, Essex police have confirmed.

British police are expected to travel to Ireland in the coming days to question the man arrested after disembarking from a ferry at Dublin Port on Saturday. Essex police, who are leading the investigation, want to speak to him in relation to the deaths of the 39 people.

It is not yet known when the victims entered the trailer - where temperatures can drop as low as -25C if the fridge is activated - or the exact route it travelled. The cross-border gang smuggles various contraband, including cigarettes and alcohol, and is more recently suspected of people smuggling.

Crates

Gardai suspect the gang may also have been involved in an attempt to smuggle Albanian migrants across the Continent to the UK two years ago. Dutch police found six Albanian men hiding between crates of fruit in near-freezing temperatures in a refrigerated trailer being transported to the UK.

The truck driver, Mark Allison, from Lisburn, was arrested in March last year and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for people smuggling.

He was found to be part of an international people smuggling network and the court heard he had been previously caught in France for the same crime.

At his trial, the Dutch prosecutor told the court that the Albanian men were not dressed to withstand the temperatures in the trailer and could have suffocated or died from hypothermia. The trafficked people said they paid the smugglers between €300 and €350 for their passage to the UK.

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