Eight men charged in relation to State’s largest ever drug seizure given January trial date

All face drug and organised crime charges after some 2.25 tonnes of cocaine was found aboard MV Matthew in Irish waters

In September 2023, a joint task force comprising members of the Revenue Customs Service, Naval Service and An Garda Síochána detained the MV Matthew. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Eight men charged in relation to the largest seizure of drugs in the history of the State after a cargo ship was boarded by a special forces unit off the southeast coast last year have been given a trial date at the Special Criminal Court.

The men face drugs and organised crime charges after some 2.25 tonnes of cocaine with an estimated value of more than €157 million was seized from the Panamanian-registered large bulk carrier MV Matthew in Irish waters in September 2023.

At the three-judge court on Monday, Mr Justice Tony Hunt fixed a trial date of January 13th, 2025, and told the accused men that a guilty plea would only be considered an early one in mitigation if it is entered before December 13th.

Defending barrister Mark Lynam SC said the case was a “very complicated” one.

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John Berry BL, for the State, said a “vast” amount of disclosure had already been provided by the prosecution.

Mr Justice Hunt adjourned the matter to October 21st for mention by video-link.

The eight men charged are Ukraine nationals Vitaliy Lapa (61) of Rudanka, Regina Stn, Bendyousk, Ukraine; Mykhailo Gavryk (31) and Vitaliy Vlasoi (31) both with unknown addresses; Jamie Harbron (31) of South Avenue, Billigham, UK; Soheil Jelveh (49), address unknown; Philippines national Harold Estoesta (30), Iran national Saeid Hassani (38) and Cumali Ozgen (49) of Delftselaan, Den Hag, the Netherlands.

Vitaliy Lapa and Jamie Harbron are accused of an offence contrary to Section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 on dates between September 24th and September 26th, 2023, both dates inclusive for possession of drugs within the State. Vitaliy Lapa is also charged with an offence under Section 72 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 that between July 15th and September 25th, with knowledge of the existence of a criminal organisation, he contributed to an activity intending to or being reckless as to whether such activity could facilitate the commission of a serious offence by that criminal organisation.

Mr Harbron is also charged with the same Section 72 offence on dates between September 21st and September 25th, 2023.

Soheil Jelveh, Mykhailo Gavryk, Vitaliy Vlasoi, Harold Estoesta, Saeid Hassani, Cumali Ozgen face similar Section 72 charges and are further charged with an offence under the Criminal Justice (Illicit Traffic by Sea) Act 2003 and the Misuse of Drugs Act on dates between September 24th to September 26th, both dates inclusive.

On September 26th, 2023, a joint taskforce, comprising members of the Revenue Customs Service, Naval Service and An Garda Síochána interdicted and detained the MV Matthew, which was on a course originating in South America.

After Army Rangers secured the vessel, members of the Navy, the Garda National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau and Revenue were transferred to the cargo vessel and the ship was then escorted into port.

Last month, State solicitor Ciara Vibien successfully applied to have all eight men’s cases heard at the non-jury court, which deals with terrorism and organised crime-related offences.

The Special Criminal Court can hear certain cases where the Director of Public Prosecutions certifies that the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order.