A member of Sinn Fein in south Armagh has blamed unionists and British state security agencies for a major investigation into his finances.
Sean Hughes described a raid on his home last week as a “scalp” to placate DUP hardliners. It was alleged that he amassed a large real estate portfolio through tax and social welfare fraud. His assets and those of a number of relatives and neighbours have been frozen by a London-based police unit, the ‘Serious Organised Crime Agency’ (Soca).
Mr Hughes, who was once accused by DUP leader Peter Robinson under British parliamentary privilege as the man behind a series of devastating attacks by the Provisional IRA, described the fraud allegations as “ridiculous”.
“I own two houses - a Housing Executive property which I lived in for many years and later bought and a new home which I recently built on the family farm and which was paid for by remortgaging the first property,” he said.
“I’m a farmer and have no other income. My books are there for anyone to see.
“These claims that I have 11 houses and an apartment are totally and utterly untrue.”
He said the incident was being used to divert attention from the DUP’s refusal to agree to the devolution of policing and justice powers.
“I’ve been a committed republican all my life. I make no apologies for that,” he said.
“I’ve been arrested and interrogated and had my home raided by the RUC on numerous occasions.
“But as a member of Sinn Fein I’ve also been at the forefront of calling for people to support the peace process and the changes in policing.
“I will continue to do so but I believe that this entire charade has been orchestrated by the securocrats for no other reason than to distract away from the DUP’s refusal to sign up to the transfer of policing and justice powers.”
Mr Hughes said he now faced financial ruin and that the bank accounts of family members and neighbours had also been frozen without explanation.
“My 76-year-old mother is at her wits’ end because she’s had her life savings frozen,” he said.
“My brothers are both contractors employing local people and they’ve had their accounts frozen as well.
“They don’t know how they’re going to even pay their workers at the end of the week.
“I’m a farmer with sheep and cattle but I can’t even get money out of the bank to buy feed.
“I’ve four children and a wife and don’t know how we’re going to survive.
“They even froze the accounts of a couple up the road who I’ve no connection with.
“When I remonstrated with one of the ones raiding my home he told me it was payback time.”
The senior Sinn Fein figure was publicly defended this week by regional development minister Conor Murphy, an intervention which prompted criticism from the DUP.
Mr Hughes claimed the Soca investigation into his affairs was “politically motivated”.
“When I remonstrated with one of the ones raiding my home he told me it was ‘payback’ time,” he said.
“He even admitted that this is a civil and not a criminal matter. No-one has been arrested or even questioned but my family and neighbours are all going to be left with nothing until we fight our way through the courts to get our money back.
“That could take years and by then we’ll probably be financially ruined anyway.”
On claims that he was a member of the IRA army council, Mr Hughes said: “It is easy for these unionist politicians to hide behind parliamentary privilege to blacken my name.
“They have never said it outside the House of Commons where they could be sued for slander.”
He also claimed his home had been attacked by dissident republicans earlier this year.
“It’s ironic that the dissidents were daubing paint on the walls of my home because of my support for a new era in policing and now the securocrats who control the dissidents are trying to take the house off me because it would please the DUP,” he said.
Mr Hughes said his wife Annette, who was also named on the High Court order, would not resign from her position on her area’s district policing partnership board.
“My wife has done nothing wrong and neither has anyone else,” Mr Hughes said.
“She’ll be staying on the district policing board and won’t be resigning at the behest of the DUP.”