Steven Armstrong was publicly named this week by the NCA after they seized a property belonging to him valued at £85,000 and £28,000 from a bank account while alleging he has links to West Belfast UDA.
But speaking exclusively to the Sunday Worldyesterday from his home in Newtowabbey, Co Antrim, the 39-year-old categorically denied any involvement with the loyalist terror group and was adamant he was no UDA money man.
Instead he says it’s all a “misunderstanding over tax”. He says he wasn’t paying tax for a number of years and because he’d been arrested in 2017 with a high-profile loyalist they assumed he was involved with the UDA.
West Belfast UDA is regarded as one of Ulster’s most active crime gangs – making millions from selling drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis.
The National Crime Agency, working alongside the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, say they believe Steven Armstrong has been involved in laundering money for the gang as well committing fraud.
But he says he has not been charged with any criminal offences and points out he wasn’t even arrested as part of this investigation.
“I’ve got absolutely nothing to do with the UDA, this is all complete nonsense,” he told us yesterday.
“I was arrested in 2017 alongside a high-profile loyalist who I’m not going to name but I wasn’t charged with anything because I hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Then a couple of years later they seized the house and the bank account and came up with this nonsense that it was linked to the UDA.
“The issue is I hadn’t been paying my taxes for years so they looked at my assets and thought this guy hasn’t worked in ten years it must be UDA money.
“But I’ve worked in the same place since I was 16 or 17 years old and that’s the truth. I’d rather you didn’t mention my employer because I’m worried I could lose my job over this and it’s completely wrong.
“The property they took was a rental I owned, it was my partner’s old home, and the money in the account was from an inheritance. Honestly I’m horrified that I’m being linked to the UDA.”
Steven Armstrong is pictured here on a boat while enjoying a family holiday in Ibiza in 2017.
The Sunday Worldcan confirm they spoke to several UDA sources who said they had not heard of Steven Armstrong.
However, they claimed that the terror group has many ‘sleepers’ who have clean criminal records who are used to buy property and launder criminal cash for them.
We understand West Belfast’s ‘C’ Company, according to sources under the direction of alleged UDA boss Denis Cunningham, has a number of figures with clean criminal records who launder money for them.
Steven Armstrong insists he has nothing to do with the terror group and maintains the issue is a misunderstanding over tax.
“In the High Court the other day there was no mention of UDA on any documents – it states it’s all about tax liabilities,” he protested to us.
“I have no link to the UDA at all and to be honest I’m horrified this is happening.”
A loyalist source told us: “Gangs like West Belfast UDA and East Belfast UVF will regularly use people who haven’t come under the radar of the police,” said a source.
“They’ll get them to put property in their name and look after cash in their legitimate accounts. I’ve never heard of Steven Armstrong and if he wasn’t paying his taxes, he’d be an unusual person for the UDA to use because they’d know there could be a risk he’d come under the radar of the authorities.”
On Wednesday the authorities named Mr Armstrong and his alleged UDA links, having gone to the High Court in Belfast 24 hours earlier to ask to be allowed to recover his property and cash.
In a press release issued to all media outlets they said: “National Crime Agency officers working as part of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF) have seized a property in the Newtownabbey area valued at £85,000 and £28,000 held in a bank account from a man with alleged links to the West Belfast Ulster Defence Association.
“On 19 July 2022, the High Court in Belfast granted a Civil Recovery Order by consent under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 against Steven Armstrong, aged 39, of Newtownabbey, Greater Belfast.
“Armstrong is suspected of being engaged in fraud and money laundering offences. The NCA will now work with partners to realise the value of the property and recover the funds held in the bank account under the terms of the Order.”
Representatives from the three authorities were quick to comment to express their delight at what they see as a major strike against organised crime.
NCA Operations Manager Stephen Brown said: “This is another example of the NCA using its powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to take action against those suspected of involvement in paramilitary related crime.
“The message to those involved in paramilitary crime is clear – we will use every tool available to us. Where we can identify assets that are the proceeds of crime, we will do all we can to pursue them.”
The NCA, Police Service of Northern Ireland and HM Revenue & Customs established the PCTF to tackle criminality linked to paramilitary activity as part of the Executive’s action plan on Tackling Paramilitary Activity, Criminality, and Organised Crime.
PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Kelly said: “This action demonstrates the strength of the three agencies working together as part of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force and their commitment to tackling the harm inflicted on communities by these individuals and groups.”
The NCA have not brought criminal proceedings against Mr Armstrong, who continues to deny any link to criminality.
Instead they brought civil proceedings against him.
Civil Recovery proceedings under Part 5 of POCA provide for the recovery of property which has been acquired within the previous 20 years through unlawful conduct and therefore is, or represents the proceeds of crime.
Unlike criminal confiscation, following a criminal conviction, the proceedings are brought in the High Court in the form of a civil action.
Any civil recovery claim focuses on the property as opposed to the person and whether property is recoverable or not is determined by the High Court on the civil standard of proof namely, the balance of probabilities.
Money recovered will be returned to the Treasury and are often given out to law enforcement agencies to help them continue further investigations like the one taken against Steven Armstrong.