The Irish authorities have frozen cash assets worth around £690,000 which they seized during dawn raids on the farm of Thomas "Slab" Murphy, the reclusive farmer thought to have been the IRA chief of staff since 1996.

It emerged last night that the criminal assets bureau found sterling, euros and cheques during searches at properties skirting the Irish border, including Mr Murphy's home in Co Louth.

Mr Murphy has been under security surveillance for years but has never been convicted of anything. He claims he has been targeted by those "hoping that in vilifying me personally and republicanism in general they will scupper attempts to build peace". He was named last year in the BBC's criminal rich list as the richest smuggler in the UK, with an estimated fortune of £35-40m from cross-border cigarette and fuel smuggling.

A source from the assets bureau said the money was recovered from Mr Murphy's farm, which straddles the border with Northern Ireland. Officers had attempted to serve a notice on Mr Murphy at his home in Ballybinabay but he was not there.



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