Illegal drugs smuggled into Northern Ireland in PPE shipments

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Image source, Getty Images

Criminal gangs used Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shipments in an attempt to smuggle illegal drugs in Northern Ireland, the justice minister has said.

Naomi Long revealed the attempts in her annual report on organised crime.

Mrs Long said organised crime groups had also exploited the need for PPE, including selling non-existent stock online.

She said it was "reprehensible" criminals had exploited the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The fact that criminals would stoop so low as to exploit the circumstances created by a pandemic shows they care about nothing other than lining their own pockets," she added.

"PPE is an essential part of keeping people safe from the virus so to use shipments of it to conceal drugs is beyond reprehensible."

The Organised Crime Task Force annual report also said drugs were found concealed in flooring packaging and in washing powder.

'Bring criminals to justice'

The taskforce had helped rescue "111 potential victims of modern slavery", the report added.

The report also revealed 5.7m cigarettes, 65,000 litres of alcohol and more than 2,000 items of counterfeit goods "had been prevented from entering Northern Ireland".

"It is critical that we strive to make organised crime unprofitable and to bring criminals to justice," Mrs Long added.

"Next year, new legislation will be introduced to enhance powers for law enforcement agencies here, bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.

"Unexplained Wealth Orders, account freezing and forfeiture powers, and the ability to seize criminal assets are just three of the additional measures that will be available to strengthen collective efforts to tackle organised crime.

"In addition work will continue on proposals for new organised crime offences."

Image caption,
Justice Minister Naomi Long said new legislation would enhance powers for law enforcement agencies in NI

PSNI crime department Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray said the criminality of organised crime gangs "knows no bounds as has been witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic when they have continued to make money regardless of the pressures on the lives of others".

"The Organised Crime Task Force is committed to disrupting and frustrating the criminal gangs involved.

"This year's annual report recognises the contribution and significant successes of the law enforcement agencies over the past 12 months including the seizure of illegal drugs, rescuing victims of human trafficking, and seizing counterfeit goods."

The Organised Crime Task Force was established in 2000 and includes the Police Service of Northern Ireland, An Garda Síochána (Irish police), the Department of Justice and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.