ORGANISED CRIMINALS with links to Northern Ireland's paramilitary groups are increasingly using third parties, including advisers, in an effort to hide the origin of their money, according to senior financial investigators, reports The Financial Times.
According to the paper, high-ranking police officers told MPs in a number of cases under investigation, "professional" advisers, including accountants, independent financial advisers and solicitors, had "assisted and advised criminals to conceal assets and avoid attention".
Jane Earl, director of the Assets Recovery Agency, which was set up to seize criminals' assets, told the Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee that Ulster's criminal gangs were adopting a "business-like approach" to their activities, spreading their investments across borders and into various sectors, including the purchase of property across Europe.
In its latest report, the committee says that all paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland are "heavily involved" in organised crime to raise finance for their organisations and for personal gain.
THE PENSIONS REGULATOR has refused to reveal details of a ground-breaking deal to safeguard the retirement incomes of 31,000 former shipping and engineering workers because staff faced two years in jail if confidential information leaked out, reports The Guardian.
MPs and pension experts, who have campaigned for the regulator to openly discuss the controversial proposals, said a shroud of secrecy prevented workers from scrutinising the scheme amid concerns it would leave workers worse off.
They argue the employer responsible for the pension scheme is being let off the hook and the interests of scheme members potentially undermined.
The regulator was prompted to defend his silence by a report being published which highlights further concerns about the deal. A spokeswoman said the pension act, which governs the actions of the regulator, made it a crime punishable by up to two years prison for divulging confidential information.
The dispute stems from the regulator's decision to allow shipping group Aker Kvaerner to sidestep future pension liabilities affecting the 31,000 former employees.
It was the first time the watchdog agreed to a request from an employer to cut all formal ties with its own retirement scheme in exchange for a series of payments into the fund. Chairman of the watchdog, David Norgrove, has consistently argued the proposals from the employer offered former workers the best possible deal.
Members of the scheme were shocked at the move, believing the watchdog should take a more robust stance. They pointed to the sale by Aker Kvaerner of UK assets to five managers for £1 only days before the regulator came into effect in April 2005.
Members, mostly former Trafalgar House employees who were taken over by Kvaerner, argued the sale was further proof of attempts by the company to distance itself from the scheme.
The new firm, renamed TH Global, argued it had few assets to prop up the pension scheme and expected the fund to follow others, mainly from companies that went bust, into the industry lifeboat scheme, the Pension Protection Fund.
According to the last reported figures, the fund faced a deficit of £245m on liabilities of £1.2bn. Negotiations between the scheme's trustees and TH Global since last summer brought a commitment by TH Global to pay £101m into the fund before 2012.
TONY BLAIR refused to intervene yesterday to block the extradition of three bankers to the United States but raised hopes that they might be able to prepare their defence on bail in Britain, reports The Times.
The Prime Minister denied in the Commons the US had “unfair” extradition terms but disclosed he had asked officials to see whether the so-called NatWest Three could be assured of bail.
Downing Street later confirmed this could mean the trio are allowed back to Britain rather than having to spend up to two years in a Texan jail.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dem leader, insisted the US extradition terms were unfair and his party will today table a Bill which would require prima facie evidence before suspects are sent from Britain into American custody.
Blair told MPs: “I understand the real concern the families will have as to what happens when they go to the United States and I have asked our officials to look and see whether there is support or assurances we can give so if they’re extradited they are actually given the opportunity to be bailed.”
Downing Street later confirmed that officials were seeking assurances that the three would be eligible for bail in Britain. Mark Spragg, the lawyer for the NatWest Three, said yesterday that bail would be virtually worthless unless it could be secured in the UK.
Blair’s statement came as leading British businessmen and politicians backed a campaign urging John Reid, the Home Secretary, to stop the extradition of the NatWest Three. The bankers are accused of taking part in a $19m fraud related to Enron over the alleged sale of a Cayman Islands company for less than it was worth.
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