Paramilitary money lenders are forcing people who cannot repay their loans to crime, according to a new Justice Department campaign.
Oney lenders who charge high interest rates are known to operate in many parts of Northern Ireland.
Despite this, there have been no convictions for these offenses, with a senior PSNI officer saying those in debts to the paramilitaries are often too afraid to speak out.
The offense exploits people with the lowest incomes, with poor credit scores and therefore unable to borrow money from authorized lenders.
Instead, money – often in small amounts of £ 50 / £ 100 – is borrowed by those in desperate need from criminal gangs who demand weekly payments with interest rates of around 20%. on the pound.
Those who cannot repay the loans are threatened with violence or coerced into carrying out criminal activities on behalf of the responsible organizations.
A hard-hitting advertising campaign urging people in financial difficulty not to borrow money from criminals, and with links to counseling agencies, is being launched by the Justice Department.
“Illegal money lenders don’t care about their victims, they are only looking to exercise control and exploit vulnerable people for their own benefit,” Justice Minister Naomi Long said.
The “Ending the Harm” public awareness campaign will focus on how paramilitary gangs are using illegal money lending as a means of controlling and exploiting vulnerable people.
The ad tells how a young single mother’s situation quickly deteriorates once she borrows money from an illegal lender.
The Justice Minister said: “The lending of illegal money is an underreported crime, but one that is common in all communities in Northern Ireland and is a practice closely linked to paramilitary gangs.
“It is a crime that targets the vulnerable when they are most desperate. We know from research and evidence that this is yet another example of how paramilitaries and those associated with them attempt to coerce and control people and communities for their own benefit.
“The coercion that accompanies illegal money lending means that it is common for victims of this crime to feel that they have no one to turn to. But support and help is available.
“Advice NI, the independent advice network, operates a free, confidential debt service offering practical advice and support to people facing debt of any kind.
“In addition, I encourage all victims of criminal behavior like this to contact the police.
“People have had to live with paramilitary control, violence, threats and exploitation for too long. Life is hard enough without it.
“Families, communities and businesses are desperate to get back to normal after Covid-19 and the last thing they need is the negative influence of paramilitary gangs seeking control, often for financial gain.
“The Executive Program to Tackle Paramilitary, Crime and Organized Crime aims to end the damage, both here and now and in the longer term.
“Through the program, we will cut paramilitary supply chains, whether it is paramilitary drugs that ruin people’s lives, loans of money that lead to misery, or violence that leaves vulnerable children slaughtered and mutilated in the street.
“There should never be a place for this and as a society it is so important that we support the people who every day prevent another generation from being marked in this way,” the minister added.
The offense of money laundering falls under the Financial Services Act. In Britain this would be dealt with by the regulators, but due to the involvement of the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, it falls to the PSNI.
To date, no one has been convicted in Northern Ireland for lending illegal money. Deputy Police Chief Bobby Singleton said that part of the reason “very few people are showing up to report.”
He added that the threat of “potential retaliation from lenders has meant that there has been very little opportunity to advance investigations in this space.”
“We are optimistic that this may change, we have a number of ongoing investigations, we have made arrests in connection with these offenses and related activities and have a number of cases before the prosecution,” he said. ‘ACC Singleton.
Advice NI, an independent charity, offers confidential debt advice to anyone in crisis and can be contacted on 0800 915 4604.