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October 7, 2005 3:00 am
Police raided properties in the Manchester area yesterday as part of an investigation into alleged money laundering by the Irish Republican Army.
The raids are understood to be linked to a joint investigation by police in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic into the business activities of Thomas "Slab" Murphy, a south Armagh farmer whom security officials believe is the IRA's self-styled chief of staff.
Michael McDowell, the Irish justice minister, warned yesterday that the IRA may have decommissioned its weapons but the authorities were still pursuing the organisation's criminal networks, to prevent their funding of Sinn Féin, the IRA's political wing.
"Anyone who believes that political development will somehow airbrush out the whole question of the proceeds of criminality and the massive portfolio of assets which many people involved in paramilitarism have and intend to use to pervert the democratic process in this state, should think twice," he said.
The raids started just hours before Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, entered Downing Street for talks with Tony Blair, the prime minister - the first such meeting since the IRA arms move last week.
The raids were conducted by officers from Greater Manchester police and officials from Northern Ireland's Assets Recovery Agency, and were targeted at business and home addresses of two businessmen.
The agency said it had identified "approximately 250 properties held by both persons and a number of property management companies". The portfolio "that has been acquired over a period of time is believed to be worth in the region of £30m".
Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, also in Downing Street for separate talks, said the raids were "a bit late in the day".
Mr Adams refused to comment on suggestions the raids were targeted at Mr Murphy. But he said he believed it was no accident the raids were conducted on the day he was due to see the prime minister. "I don't think it's any accident . . This is obviously a political agenda," he said.
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