DUBLIN -- Police have blown open an Irish Republican Army money-laundering operation but cannot confirm yet whether cash worth nearly $5 million seized in nationwide raids came from a massive Belfast bank robbery, the government said yesterday.
As their investigation expanded by the hour, detectives brought criminal charges against one suspected IRA member and interrogated three other people, including a man allegedly caught burning a pile of British currency in his backyard.
Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell, the government's most outspoken critic of the IRA and its allied Sinn Fein party, said police had just begun to expose a wider IRA network with sophisticated money-laundering techniques. He called it "a colossal crime machine, laundering huge sums of money."
Don Bullman, a 30-year-old chef, was arraigned in Dublin's Special Criminal Court, the three-judge panel that handles terror-related cases in Ireland, on a charge of membership in the outlawed IRA.
Police Chief Superintendent Phillip Kelly testified that detectives trailed Bullman to a rendezvous Wednesday with two suspected IRA members in a parking lot beside Dublin's Heuston train station.
Kelly said officers found $122,000 worth of euro notes -- the currency used in the Republic of Ireland -- hidden in a detergent box in a backpack. He said the cash "was part of a money-laundering operation on behalf of the IRA."
Specialists at Irish police headquarters in Dublin inspected more than $4.75 million in British pounds seized Wednesday night and Thursday in four locations.
But Ireland's police commander, Commissioner Noel Conroy, said it could take days to determine whether the money could be linked to the Dec. 20 robbery of the Northern Bank, when the IRA allegedly stole a world-record $50 million.
"We are following quite a number of lines on where the money may have come from, and naturally enough, one of the lines is the Northern Ireland bank robbery," Conroy said.