Offices of David Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party were raided today as part of a police investigation into money laundering by the unionist paramilitary UDA.

The party office inside the Castlereagh Borough Council office was raided and computer equipment and paper files were seized. The home and office of Ulster Unionist Assembly member Michael Copeland was also raided. Computer equipment, credit card and bank statements were among items taken from Mr Copeland.

There have been a series of raids and arrests in east Belfast and its outskirts in the past two weeks as part of the police investigation into the criminal activities and money laundering of the UDA.

A leading estate agent was charged by the same team of detectives who are investigating the financial affairs of deposed UDA leader Jim ‘Doris Day’ Gray.

Gray himself appeared in court on Saturday charged with possessing and concealing criminal property.

Gray was arrested carrying a large amount of cash just days after he was toppled from his position as one of six so-called ‘brigadiers’ in an internal UDA purge. There had been rumours Gray was set to quit the North.

Now it appears the Ulster Unionist Party may become another casualty of the UDA’s internal power struggle.

The police said they were acting as a result of a serious allegations made against Copeland over the sale of land.

“I assisted the police fully and gave them my wholehearted support in getting to the bottom of their investigation,” Mr Copeland said.

“I wish to make it clear that I feel that I am not in any way implicated in any wrong-doing.”

The raids are the latest blow to the UUP’s election efforts and have placed the party in a difficult position. Party leader David Trimble collapsed the Belfast Assembly in 2002 after choreographed police raids on the Sinn Fein offices at the Assembly buildings.

Allegations of an IRA ‘spy ring’ ultimately came to nothing, although the damage to the political process was extensive.

Today’s raids have been greeted with silence from Sinn Fein’s usual critics. East Belfast Sinn Fein Representative Deborah Devenny contrasted the approach.

“When the Sinn Fein Offices in Stormont were raided the PSNI had briefed the media in advance to ensure maximum publicity and senior Special Branch figures including the DUPs Bill Lowry briefed selected members of the media on the operation.

“Today the offices of the UUP were raided in Castlereagh Council and the home of a senior elected representative was also raided as part of an investigation into money laundering.

“Correctly no media were informed until after the raid was completed.

“As republicans well know the fact that the PSNI raid a home or office does not imply any guilt. However what is stark is the approach to this news by the unionist political parties.

“In the wake of the Stormont raids despite the fact that nobody has been convicted of any offence and many of the original charges have since been dropped, the UUP collapsed the political institutions and the DUP made false allegation after false allegation accusing republicans of criminality and spying.

“It will seem to many within the broad nationalist community that an entirely different approach has been adopted today by the political leaders of unionism in the wake of these raids.”

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