How Kildare raid lifted lid on cartel's global operation

Wed, May 26, 2010, 01:00

BACKGROUND:Ireland’s biggest drugs supplier has a property portfolio from the Costa del Sol to Brazil, writes CONOR LALLY

THE MAJOR search and arrest operation in Europe and Brazil yesterday against the Irish drugs cartel led by Dubliner Christy Kinahan (53) had its origins in a drugs raid at a remote property in Co Kildare two years ago.

On that occasion, in February 2008, gardaí moved in on a warehouse at the back of a house in Clongorey, Co Kildare, and seized one tonne of cannabis.

A further 500kg of the drug was seized in a car in Kill as part of the same operation, bringing the value of the drug seized to €10.5 million. Four men were arrested between Clongorey, an industrial estate near Newbridge and in a vehicle in Kill. Three firearms were also seized, including a rifle with telescopic sight and silencer, a pump-action shotgun and a single barrel shotgun.

Two Irishmen have been convicted for their role in the Kildare find and two others who were charged have since gone on the run. One is a former League of Ireland soccer player.

When gardaí began looking into the background of the Kildare haul, a very interesting picture emerged. They found it was linked to a group of Irish criminals based in Malaga and Marbella, southern Spain. These men had set up small food companies and imported inexpensive foodstuffs from Spain. Once they had established a record of having imported shipments of food on vehicles registered to their company into small warehouses here also registered to it, they began smuggling drugs.

The property in Clongorey was found to include a warehouse with forklift and trucks, all being used to move hauls of drugs quickly around the country once they had entered Ireland from Spain in trucks on car ferries. Once here, the drugs, mainly cannabis and cocaine, were sold on in multimillion-euro batches to crime gangs nationwide.

Kinahan did not align himself to one gang. He stayed out of gangland feuds here and simply acted as a wholesaler to all of the main players. These include key drugs gangs in Dublin, Limerick, Cork and in the regions.

The Garda’s investigation identified an identical operation in England, mostly in the greater London area, where front companies with vehicles and small warehouses were used to ship in drugs from Spain.

An international investigation led by the Garda and supported by the authorities in the UK found the front companies in both jurisdictions were linked to a parent front company in Spain.

All of the companies were controlled by the Irish men arrested in Spain yesterday.

Acting on information supplied by the Garda, the London Metropolitan police in March of last year seized eight semi- automatic firearms, four machine guns and ammunition and silencers. The UK police believe the guns originated in Spain and were shipped via the front companies.

The Garda, UK and Spanish authorities began sharing information on the Kinahan-led gang and a major international investigation was put in place.

It quickly spread to include the authorities in other European countries and further afield, culminating in the co-ordinated searches involving some 700 police officers from 4.30am Irish time yesterday.

The investigation focused not only on drug-trafficking but on the money-laundering and property investments in which Kinahan was involved.

Gardaí believe the gang led by Kinahan was not only laundering its own money and buying property for itself but had also acted as financial services agent for other criminal gangs. At this stage, properties owned by Kinahan and his associates have been found across the world and have an estimated combined value of over €150 million. The properties are mainly residential but include some business interests such as pubs and small retail businesses.

Properties have now been traced in Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Dubai, South African, Brazil and Cyprus. A network of solicitors and accountants in all of those jurisdictions have been used to launder money and buy property.

Many of these professional offices were searched yesterday by police forces in those countries.

Europol and Interpol are also now involved in the investigation.