Dubliner Liam Byrne, who allegedly ran the Kinahan cartel’s operations in the Republic, was expected to be extradited to Britain to face serious firearms charges after his arrest in Mallorca at a “family reunion”. His detention is seen as one of the most significant moves against Kinahan cartel members or associates since the Kinahan-Hutch feud began eight years ago.
Byrne (42) flew from Dubai to Mallorca, via Palma airport, on May 26th but was arrested on Sunday evening in the Alcúdia area while in a restaurant with family members. Another Irish man, Jack Kavanagh (22), was arrested in Málaga last Tuesday and both men remained in custody in Spain last night pending a British extradition process.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) in Britain said “EncroChat messages showed they [Byrne and Kavanagh] were believed to be involved in the supply and acquisition of firearms” in the United Kingdom. EncroChat was a secretive and supposedly secure messaging system used by criminals until it closed in 2020 after being infiltrated by international law enforcement.
The EncroChat messages accessed have resulted in multimillion-euro seizures of drugs and cash and led to the conviction of many high-profile gangland criminals around the world. However, Byrne is the first high-profile Irish criminal to face serious charges arising from EncroChat messages being used as evidence.
It appears Byrne believed he had arrived in Mallorca undetected, but that was not the case, as he was being tracked in an operation between Spanish, British and Irish law enforcement.
Spain’s Policía Nacional said the danger posed by Byrne “and the possibility that he could be [arrested] with firearms” necessitated a special policing operation being put in place to detain him.
While initially based in the UK after leaving the Republic, he had been residing in Dubai of late having fled from Britain as a major inquiry into him there was nearing completion. That inquiry led to the approval of criminal charges in Britain against Byrne, though as he was living in Dubai, he could not be arrested and charged.
The NCA’s regional head of investigations, Kay Mellor, said the inquiry resulting in the arrest of Byrne, and Kavanagh, was “part of the NCA’s ongoing work targeting the Kinahan crime group”. Kavanagh, who is based in Tamworth, Staffordshire, was arrested in Málaga Airport while transiting from Dubai to Turkey last Tuesday.
“Liam Byrne and Jack Kavanagh have been evading justice for a number of years, but have now been arrested in relation to serious firearms offences,” Ms Mellor said.
The NCA added it had obtained trade and co-operation agreement (TCA) warrants “after EncroChat messages showed they [Byrne and Kavanagh] were believed to be involved in the supply and acquisition of firearms”. Of the two men, Byrne is by far the more senior figure and his arrest is of much higher value than Kavanagh’s.
In 2016, Liam Byrne’s brother, David Byrne, was the single fatality at the Regency Hotel shooting that escalated the infamous Kinahan-Hutch feud. Liam Byrne was a central player in the feud.
Spain’s Policía Nacional did not name Byrne as the man its members had arrested on Sunday but described the suspect they had taken into custody as “a priority fugitive for the United Kingdom” linked to the “Kinahan clan” and to allegedly “trafficking firearms”. It added some of the firearms Byrne was accused of sourcing for sale were fitted with “systems that did not leave fingerprints”, a measure intended to frustrate criminal investigators. The Spanish police also alleged the gang was so significant in scale that one of the orders it received was “for 14 firearms in a single batch”.
The Policía Nacional said Byrne’s arrest was part of a much wider, and long-term, investigation that had also targeted other men the Dubliner was linked to. It added those other suspects were arrested in Britain and Northern Ireland for drug trafficking, with “numerous short arms, submachine guns” seized. It added “a vault with firearms and ammunition” was discovered at one point.
Furthermore, the Spanish police said while Byrne had continued to lead a “high-end lifestyle” after leaving Britain, and allegedly continued to direct a crime gang while in Dubai, Spanish police officers specialised in locating wanted fugitives were in contact with the British police about his case.