Financier avoids jail for money laundering

Suspended term imposed on man caught with Northern Bank robbery cash

Gardaí in Cork noticed sterling cash moving in the area prior to the robbery. Photograph: Dara MacDónaill

Gardaí in Cork noticed sterling cash moving in the area prior to the robbery. Photograph: Dara MacDónaill

Fri, Feb 28, 2014, 01:00

A 65-year-old financial adviser has been given a five-year suspended sentence for his part in the money laundering of about £275,000 of the £26.5 million stolen in the Northern Bank robbery in Belfast almost 10 years ago.

Ted Cunningham of Woodbine Lodge, Farran, Co Cork, was sentenced at Cork Circuit Criminal Court yesterday after pleading guilty last week to two counts of money laundering four days into his trial on nine counts of money laundering.

Cunningham pleaded guilty to money laundering £100,040 on January 15th, 2005, by transferring it to John Douglas in Tullamore, Co Offaly, and in doing so being reckless to it being the proceeds of the Northern Bank robbery.

He also pleaded guilty to money laundering £175,360 on February 7th, 2005, by transferring it to John Sheehan in Ballincollig, Co Cork, and receiving three cheques totalling €200,000.

Yesterday, Insp Colm Noonan outlined the background to the case when an armed IRA gang held up the Northern Bank Cash Centre at Donegall Square West in Belfast on December 20th, 2004, in what was the biggest bank robbery to date on the island.

“It was an extremely sophisticated operation involving the use of firearms, a large number of personnel over a 24-hour period and it is the view of those investigating the robbery that it was carried out by the IRA,” said Insp Noonan.

Criminal subversives
Gardaí in Cork noticed sterling cash moving in the area prior to the robbery, but after the raid they examined these movements and the activities of criminal subversives in Cork which led to the arrest of three men with £94,000 at Heuston Station in Dublin in February 2005. This in turn led them to Cunningham who may not have been aware of the identity of those who carried out the Northern Bank raid but displayed a recklessness with regard to the origin of the money that he gave to unsuspecting business people, said Insp Noonan.

Financial director
At the time, Cunningham had his own company, Chesterton Finance, in Ballincollig, Co Cork, and Cunningham had recently rejoined the company as a financial director, said Insp Noonan.

Cross-examined by defence counsel Hugh Hartnett SC, Insp Noonan said gardaí accepted Cunningham had no involvement in subversive activity but had been utilised by criminal subversives because of his financial experience and business contacts.

The court heard Cunningham had been convicted of 10 counts of money laundering in 2009 arising out the same investigation, but relating to a much larger sum. He was sentenced to 10 years, but was released after three on appealing his conviction.

Mr Hartnett asked that the court not impose a custodial sentence given Cunningham’s age, poor health, and the fact that he had already served three years prior to his appeal, plus his guilty plea to the two offences.

Judge Seán Ó Donnnabháin paid tribute to the professionalism of the Garda investigation and he noted Cunningham’s guilty plea, which he said was a clear acknowledgement of his part in money laundering.

“It puts his involvement beyond all doubt and all from out of his own mouth. There are no appeals, there is no doubt anymore.”

Mr Hartnett said Cunningham would give up his role as financial director of Chesterton Finance, and Judge Ó Donnabháin welcomed that as he imposed a five-year sentence suspended on condition he have no involvement in any financial company for five years.