THE Government will move this week to toughen the laws on confiscating criminals' assets with a measure expected to yield a multi-million euro windfall for the taxpayer.
A bill before the Dail on Friday will reduce the period that gardai must wait before they can sell off confiscated criminal assets from the current seven years to just two years.
The Proceeds of Crime Amendment Bill will toughen the 1996 law introduced in the wake of the murder of Sunday Independent campaigning journalist Veronica Guerin.
Under the Guerin-inspired law, the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) can apply for a High Court order freezing a criminal's assets. The case is then heard in full and, if successful, those assets are frozen until further notice.
But under existing law, the assets cannot be sold off - and the proceeds paid to the Exchequer - for at least a further seven years.
This legal change would reduce that waiting period to two years and would free up at least five years of worth of criminals' assets that have lain idle to date.
"It is hard to estimate how much of a backlog is involved but it is at least several million and that would give a significant one-off injection to the Exchequer. That money could be spent on improving police resources," a government source told the Herald.
The bill is promoted by Labour Dublin South West TD Deputy Eamonn Maloney, and has full government backing.
One senior government official said the law will be quickly processed and the change put into effect.
The Justice Department said that since it was set up by law in October 1996, the CAB successfully froze over €70m worth of criminals' assets up to the end of 2011.
It also collected €137m of the €200m demanded in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties.
CAB also made social welfare savings of almost €6m and recovered over €2m in fraudulently claimed welfare.
CAB's 70 staff are drawn from the Gardai, the Revenue Commissioners and the Social Protection Department with legal back-up from the Chief State Solicitor's office.
CAB has confiscated and eventually sold many high-profile criminals' homes, cars and money.
Among the most notable was the 58-acre Jessbrook equestrian centre, near Naas, Co Kildare, owned by John Gilligan, which raised a reputed €500,000.
But more recently CAB has also directed its attention at less large-scale criminals. This has the potential to lead to confiscation of more money in future years.