Criminal property case against John Gilligan dismissed

Gilligan arrested at airport in Co Antrim last year with bundles of money in his baggage

The case against convicted criminal John Gilligan who was arrested on criminal property charges while carrying more than €20,000 in cash has been dismissed.

John Gilligan (67) from Greenforth Crescent, was stopped at Belfast International Airport in Co Antrim last year with bundles of money in his baggage ahead of a flight to Alicante in Spain.

Prosecutors argued that he intended to purchase a prescription drug in Spain for distribution on the Irish drugs black market and charged him with possession of criminal property and attempting to remove criminal property.

His defence barrister Sean Devine said it was a tenuous case based around a small piece of cardboard found in his possession with the name “Zopiclone” on it.


Mr Devine said: “The authorities in my respectful submission, have started off with a theory.

“They posit a theory and that theory is dismissed in categorical terms by my client and after that it is tumbleweed.”

A lawyer told Coleraine Magistrates’ Court the cash was contained in two bundles and wrapped using clear tape.

Mr Gilligan said the money was intended to be used to rent a property in Spain and had been donated by relatives.

He had a piece of paper with the name of the drug printed on it but said it was for his personal use, and followed pain near his ribs which he suffered from bullet wounds.

A black diary had been found in his possession with a torn-off part of a packet for the prescription sleeping drug.

He was questioned about the anti-insomnia prescribed medication Zopiclone, which investigators said was “prevalent” in the Irish drugs market.

The defendant had denied planning to smuggle Zopiclone from Spain into Ireland, where it commanded a higher price on the streets, prosecution barrister Robin Steer told a court.

Mr Gilligan was also in possession of a number of mobile phone sim cards and top-up cards which prosecutors argued were to be used to cover his tracks following phone calls in Spain.

Prosecution barrister Robin Steer summarised the accused’s defence as: “It is a mere coincidence that I am bringing this money out in cash and going to an area where Zopiclone is cheaper and widely available.”

Prosecutors disclosed a series of flights taken by Mr Gilligan departing from Belfast for Spain but returning to Dublin.

They were booked at short notice and the court was told the reason he used Belfast was because he would be less recognisable there than in the Republic.

Expert witnesses read to the court from the National Crime Agency (NCA) said it had investigated two cases where Zopiclone was imported through Belfast.

A statement from Irish police read to the court said the tablets were available in a chemist for as little as €8 for 28.

On the street, where the substance is known as Zimma, they can be sold for €2 per tablet, creating a significant profit margin.

A magistrate dismissed the case and said suspicion was insufficient to warrant a conviction in criminal courts.

Mr Gilligan left without comment. – PA