Written answers

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Department of Justice and Equality

Crime Prevention

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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158. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which she continues to combat money laundering and international crime including cyber-attacks with particular reference to issues arising in the wake of the easing of travel restrictions across Europe; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30166/21]

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to assure the Deputy that Ireland has a robust Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism framework.

Ireland’s anti money laundering framework was assessed by the global standard-setter, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Ireland was found to have “a generally sound legislative and institutional AML/CFT framework”.

Earlier this year, I welcomed the passage through the Dáil of two important pieces of criminal legislation to help combat money laundering and tackle white collar crime.

The Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) (Amendment) Act 2021 will strengthen existing anti-money laundering legislation and will give effect to provisions of the Fifth EU Money Laundering Directive. This Act ensures that our regulatory framework keeps pace with the increasing integration of financial flows in the internal market, the evolving trends, technological developments and the prevention of organised crime. In line with international standards adopted by FATF, and the EU's legislative framework, Ireland has developed a solid regulatory framework for preventing money laundering.

This Act strengthens existing legislation and contains a renewed focus on gatekeepers of financial systems. It ensures that there is increasing transparency by bringing further institutions within the scope of the Irish anti-money laundering regulatory framework and by combatting the use of new trends and technologies employed by criminals.

Virtual assets have created new opportunities for money launderers, terrorist financiers and other criminals to launder their proceeds or finance their illicit activities. The ability to transact in virtual assets rapidly across borders allows criminals to move and store assets digitally, often outside the regulated financial system.

Virtual assets also allow for greater anonymity when compared to other more traditional financial services. This anonymity can help to disguise the origin or destination of the assets, which can prevent virtual asset transactions from being adequately monitored, thus making it harder for reporting entities to identify suspicious activity. In turn this creates a barrier to the detection and investigation of criminal activity utilising virtual assets by law enforcement agencies.

It is these Money Laundering / Terrorist Financing risks that the Virtual Asset Service Provider registration and supervision regime created by the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) (Amendment) Act 2021 is intended to mitigate. Money Laundering / Terrorist Financing is continuously evolving, as criminals seek new ways to launder funds/finance terrorism as more and more traditional avenues are closed off.

However, this regime seeks to ensure that the “gatekeepers”, such as the legal profession, estate agents, accountancy bodies, who allow virtual assets to be moved, exchanged and stored, are subject to the same Anti Money Laundering and Countering Terrorist Financing obligations as banks and traditional financial service providers. In framing this regime, this legislation seeks to address our EU obligations, as well as the international obligations that arise from our membership of FATF.

The Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Act gives effect to EU Directive 2017/1371 on the fight against fraud to the European Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law. The Directive establishes minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions with regard to combatting fraud and other illegal activities (corruption and money laundering) affecting the EU’s financial interests.

As outlined in the Justice Plan for 2021, the fight against organised crime stretches beyond our borders and An Garda Síochána work closely with their international colleagues to break the networks of serious criminals and prevent them from inflicting misery in our communities. An Garda Síochána regularly liaises and cooperates with their international policing and security partners, such as EUROPOL and INTERPOL.

Of great importance in the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing is the role of the Financial Intelligence Unit in an Garda Síochána which is responsible for receiving suspicious transaction reports from designated persons and analysing them, so that it can be used to combat crime.

International collaboration is also central to further developing our capacity to combat the exploitation of technology for cybercrime. As the Deputy may appreciate, cybercrime and cyber attacks know no borders and evolve at a rapid pace. In the wake of the easing of travel restrictions across Europe, the recently published EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime 2021-2025 and the 2022-2025 EU priorities for the fight against serious and organised crime through the European multi-disciplinary platform against criminal threats (EMPACT) are timely strategies as they set out the priorities, actions and targets to be achieved in the coming five years to put the EU on a stronger footing in the fight against organised crime.

A number of commitments with regard to cyber security are included in the Programme for Government in order to take the necessary actions to protect Ireland against hacking, cybercrime, crypto-jacking, hacktivism, and cyber espionage. This includes building the capacity of the National Centre for Cyber Security, under the remit of my colleague, Minister Ryan, to protect the public and private sectors against cybercrime on foot of the capacity review currently underway. An Garda Síochána is supporting the Centre through ongoing engagement at a senior level, as well as the secondment of a member of An Garda Síochána.

An Garda Síochána has been significantly stepping up its dedicated resources in the cyber area in recent years, as is recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The Garda Commissioner established a dedicated National Bureau last summer, led by a Detective Chief Superintendent. The Bureau is expanding with planned increases of nearly 80 additional staff between this year and 2022, 25 of whom are already in place. This expansion will include recruitment of 20 civilian expert posts at engineer grade. In addition, four regional cybercrime hubs in Galway, Cork, Mullingar and Wexford were established earlier this month. The bureau’s own IT capability is also increasing with a new decryption suite procured earlier this year. This work is also resourced through a team in the National Crime and Security Intelligence Service. An Garda Síochána are liaising and co-operating with their international law enforcement partners – Interpol, Europol, the FBI and National Crime Agency.

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