Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel created an Irish network to aid large movement of drugs, gardaí believe

Sinaloa cartel has sought to build criminal networks in the EU over last five years

Gardaí believe Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa drugs cartel had quietly established a network of agents and enablers in the Republic to facilitate the onward movement of vast quantities of drugs to EU countries and other nations outside Europe.

While the initial building of that network was completed under the radar, resulting in several large drugs shipments transiting through Irish ports, gardaí began gathering intelligence about the activities of the Irish suspects and put them under surveillance. That investigation, which has been going on for some time, resulted in the seizure of over half a tonne of synthetic drugs, believed to be crystal meth, in Cork port last Friday.

Two suspects arrested for questioning during Garda follow-up operations after the drugs were discovered were still being held in Co Kerry last night. Investigating gardaí were last night due to go before the courts to seek an additional period to question them, or would be obliged to release the men without charge.

Gardaí believe the drugs were shipped from Mexico and were very likely produced in cartel-owned labs there.


Over the last five years, the Sinaloa cartel has sought to build networks, including in the EU, or criminals and other figures, including those involved in businesses, in an effort to facilitate and disguise the movement of its drugs into Europe.

Gardaí now strongly suspect an Irish-Mexican citizen, with strong links to Kerry, had recruited a small group of men in the county to act as the cartel’s agents. The Irish-Mexican man has progressed up the ranks of the Sinaloa cartel in recent years, as other senior figures were jailed or suffered ill health. He is now regarded as a person of significant power and influence in the group.

Although he is believed to have been spending time in Mexico of late, he was resident in Spain for a period where he is believed to have been involved in the cartel’s European operations. Gardaí believe he effectively used his long-standing contacts in Kerry to cultivate a group of agents there willing to work for the cartel.

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The extent of that group’s activities was still being assessed five days after the drug seizure in a container in Cork port last Friday morning. Gardaí believe that consignment was set to remain in Ireland for a period, perhaps very briefly, before being shipped to its ultimate destination, believed to be Australia.

The two Irish men arrested last Friday are both in their 40s and while one of the suspects has a lengthy criminal record, including for serious crime, the other man had not come into contact with gardaí before.

The extensive searching by the Garda, aided by the Defence Forces, in Cork and Kerry after the discovery of the crystal meth, valued at €32.8 million, was extended to Waterford at the weekend. A commercial premises, linked to a suspect, was searched there.

The two arrested men were being questioned under anti-gang legislation and can be held for up to seven days without charge, although gardaí must go before the courts and secure permission to extend the questioning up to the full seven-day period.

As well as seizing the drugs at Cork port and arresting the two suspects, two firearms were also seized during last Friday’s searches at locations in Kerry and Cork.

The Mexican-based crime group, once headed by “El Chapo” Joaquin Guzman, is regarded as one of the world’s biggest cartels and featured in the Netflix series Narcos.

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Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times