The arrest of Liam Byrne in Mallorca at the weekend means another senior and trusted figure around the leaders of the Kinahan cartel is now behind bars, with the wheels of international justice continuing to grind slowly towards the Kinahans.
Though Byrne (42) has been a prominent gangland figure for most of his adult life — and led the biggest and most powerful drugs gang in the Republic — the gun-running charges now awaiting him in Britain are the first gangland charges he has ever faced. If convicted and jailed, it would effectively complete the dismantling of the cartel’s Irish operation which he once led.
When the Kinahan-Hutch feud erupted in 2015, Byrne was the established leader of the cartel’s Irish operations. His brother-in-law Thomas Bomber Kavanagh was the cartel’s leading figure in Britain and the Kinahans lived off the proceeds of their drug-dealing empire, first in Spain and then Dubai, an extradition-shy regime.
However, in the intervening years, the cartel’s world has become much smaller. Its Irish operation has been wiped out by a major Garda crackdown against the Kinahan and Hutch gangs. That policing operation began after the Regency Hotel attack in Dublin in 2016, when Liam Byrne’s brother, David, was shot dead by gunmen trying to murder Daniel Kinahan.
The results of the Garda crackdown have been spectacular and have brought the organisation to its knees in the Republic, with more than 60 members, associates or contractors jailed, many on feud-related charges.
As its Irish operation crumbled, the cartel leadership which proved almost untouchable for two decades also came under intense pressure. In 2021, US law enforcement imposed financial sanctions on founder Christy Kinahan snr, his two sons —Daniel and Christopher jnr — and four of their closest associates. Rewards of up to $5 million were also offered for information resulting in the arrest and conviction of the Kinahans.
In Britain last year Kavanagh was jailed for 21 years for his role in smuggling some €35 million worth of cartel narcotics into the United Kingdom. That was a hammer blow to the Kinahans, putting their British operation under the same pressure its Irish business had endured for years.
However, as the organisation’s Irish operation was dismantled in the post-Regency period, its leader Liam Byrne always seemed to stay one step ahead of law enforcement. As his home in Crumlin, Dublin, was being seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau — a process concluded in 2019 — Byrne fled to the UK.
He was soon placed under investigation there on suspicion of smuggling firearms to sell to other criminal gangs. As that inquiry neared an end, Byrne was on the move again, this time relocating to Dubai, which is yet to extradite even one individual linked to the cartel.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) in Britain was granted permission by the Crown Prosecution Service in recent years to charge Byrne and James Kavanagh — the 22-year-old son of Bomber Kavanagh — with firearms offences linked to their alleged gun-smuggling activities. But as both were living in Dubai, they were safe from extradition.
But last Tuesday, May 30th, when James Kavanagh was flying from Dubai to Turkey, he was arrested during transit at Malaga Airport. Four days earlier, May 26th, Liam Byrne had jetted into Mallorca for his family holiday. While he went undetected initially, he was tracked down to the Alcúdia area and arrested there on Sunday evening while having a meal.
Both Byrne and Kavanagh remained in Spanish custody on Monday night. They were detained by Spanish police at the request of Britain’s NCA. The British authorities are now seeking their extradition to face charges in relation to the same alleged gun-running conspiracy.
Garda Assistant Commissioner Justin Kelly, who commands Organised and Serious Crime in the force, referenced Byrne by name, which is unusual, in remarks released when news of his arrest emerged on Monday.
“The arrest of Liam Byrne is a particularly significant development in the efforts of international law enforcement to dismantle the operations of the Kinahan organised crime group,” he said. “These arrests are a demonstration of An Garda Síochána’s continued co-operation with our colleagues in the National Crime Agency.”