Cocaine haul of €4.6m destined for Irish market, gardaí believe

Man arrested on Saturday after gardaí seize 67 kilos of cocaine in Leopardstown, Dublin

Gardaí believe a consignment of cocaine seized in Dublin, and valued at almost €5 million, had originated in Spain and was destined for the Irish market, rather than being transited through the Republic to the UK.

The main suspects for the importation of the haul are a drugs gang originally from north Dublin, mainly the north inner city, who have also been involved in significant armed robberies. Some of the men in the group are very close to members of the Hutch crime gang, though operate their own independent criminal network. Friday’s drug seizure, in Leopardstown, south Dublin, was the biggest in the Republic so far this year.

It continues a pattern of Irish gangs seeking to move multimillion euro consignments of cocaine in single shipments rather in multiple runs, which involve more risk. Garda sources said while the Republic was in the grips of a cost-of-living spike, the economy was booming, with near full employment, adding those economic conditions had always given rise to a surge in demand for cocaine. On Friday, gardaí stopped a man driving a vehicle in Leopardstown, south Dublin, and discovered 67kg of cocaine, valued at €4.69 million. The arrest of the driver and discovery of the drugs was part of a pre-planned operation based on intelligence.

The investigation was carried out by the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and also involved the Spanish police. The man who was arrested is in his 20s and was taken to Dundrum Garda station where he remained in custody on Saturday night. However, gardaí have established that older and more senior criminals organised and paid for the consignment of cocaine and sought to benefit from its sale in the Republic.

Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, who leads the specialist units in the Garda that investigate organised crime, said the latest operation showed the force was continuing to enjoy success against Irish drugs gangs. “The successful outcome to an operation undertaken by the Garda National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau, involving the seizure of cocaine with a street sale value close to €5 million, reflects the Garda Síochána’s determination to dismantle organised crime groups that trade in drugs,” he said.

A number of crime gangs, mostly Dublin-based, are now under intense investigation and surveillance in the event they are trying to grow quickly to capitalise on the difficulties experienced in recent years by the Kinahan cartel. Friday’s cocaine seizure is not being linked in any way to the Kinahans and a series of other major drugs and cash seizures in recent years, especially since the start of 2020, have also not been linked to the cartel.

Instead, evidence is emerging that a small number of other Irish gangs are now trying to grow as the Kinahans are under pressure. However, those gangs have been undermined by the loss of large quantities of their drugs and cash to the Garda in recent years, with such seizures at a record high in 2020 and last year.

In 2020, some €4 million in cash was seized in a co-ordinated Garda operation targeting a Dublin-based crime gang, which has also lost assets to the Criminal Assets Bureau in recent years. Garda sources said those operations were aimed at weakening the gangs now trying to become bigger players in the Irish underworld as the Kinahan cartel was greatly weakened, especially its Irish operation. The Kinahans — Christy Kinahan Snr and his two sons Daniel and Christopher Jnr — have been placed on sanctions lists by the US and UAE authorities along with four of their close associates. It means they are locked out of the banking system and commercial sectors in countries while people living in the US face prosecution and imprisonment if they conduct business dealings with the Kinahans or their close associates.

An estimated 600 people linked to the cartel have also been banned from entering the US as part of the Americans’ new policy of prioritising the cartel. That policy includes offering rewards of $5 million for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the Kinahans or helps to seriously damage the cartel. While the sanctions are aimed at the Dubai-based top tier of the Kinahan network, the cartel’s Irish operation — the Byrne organised crime group — has been wiped out by the Garda in recent years, though it was once the biggest drugs wholesale gang in the Republic. The vast majority of its key leaders and gunmen have been jailed for crimes related to the Kinahan-Hutch feud while others have been forced to flee abroad, to Dubai and the UK, and remain under investigation.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times