Gardaí using armour-plated cars seized from criminals

Elite garda officers are using luxury BMWs seized from gangsters to patrol organised crime hotspots, it emerged today.

Two armour-plated cars believed to have cost more than €350,000 were recovered by the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) last year.

The BMW X5 series four-by-fours were made to order and imported from Germany by notorious Limerick gang figures Wayne and Ger Dundon.

But after Cab handed the bullet-proof vehicles over to the Exchequer, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan ordered they be given to the force.

It is understood both cars are used by the Garda's elite emergency response unit (ERU) which is based at the Special Detective Unit in Harcourt Street.

The ERU backs up other specialist units as well as uniformed officers during risky operations against violent gangland criminals at trouble spots around the capital as well as in Limerick.

Last year, the High Court declared the two BMWs were the proceeds of crime and handed them over to Cab.

The vehicles were made to order with bullet-proof glass and reinforced armoured doors for the Dundon brothers before being imported into Ireland from Germany.

They were cruised around the streets of Limerick for several months in early 2008 before being confiscated by Cab in April that year.

They were seized as part of Operation Platinum, under which Cab recovered several other cars in Limerick.

The donation of the specialised SUVs to the Garda was revealed in the publication today of Cab's annual report for 2009.

The report shows former Government press secretary Frank Dunlop paid Cab a €30,000 fine last year for his involvement in bribing councillors to vote in favour of rezoning land at Carrickmines in south Dublin.

It also reveals the bureau obtained interim orders to the value of more than €11.5m and final restraint orders totalling more than €3.5m in 2009.

The bureau also collected more than €5m in taxes and interest as part of its investigations throughout the year.

Inquiries into social welfare payments led to savings of more than €790,000 and the recovery of more than €160,000, according to the report.

But it cost the taxpayer €6.87m to run Cab last year, with just over €5.7m of that going on salaries.

The report said 69 people were employed at the bureau at the end of last year.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the results highlighted in plain terms the effectiveness of a joint approach against the proceeds of criminal activity.

"A review of the law underpinning the operation of the bureau is continuing with a view to concluding proposals to strengthen it," he added.

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