John Gilligan to face prosecution in Spain on drugs and gun charges

Judge who investigated the gang he allegedly led ruled he had found enough evidence

Irish criminal John Gilligan has been told a judge has found enough evidence to warrant his trial on drugs and gun charges in Spain.

The 69-year-old has been formally charged by prosecutors after a long-running investigation at a court in the Costa Blanca town of Torrevieja which followed his arrest at his nearby expat home.

The judge who investigated the gang he allegedly led also ruled he had found enough “prima facie” evidence to support his prosecution for crimes against public health, membership of a criminal gang and unlawful possession of a firearm.

Prosecutors in Torrevieja are thought to have formally charged him with all three crimes, although they have so far taken the rare and unusual step of declining to offer any details of their case against him including the amount of prison time they are seeking if they secure a conviction at trial. Well-placed legal sources confirmed the written prosecution indictment had been submitted at the request of the investigating judge in charge of Torrevieja’s Court of Instruction Number One.



The same judge also paved the way for the trial of Gilligan's British partner, his son Darren and associate 'Fat' Tony Armstrong by ruling he believed there were enough indications of alleged criminality by them and five other suspected accomplices. He made his key decision at the end of a detailed behind-closed-doors investigation. It has involved court questioning of the suspects, who were placed under formal investigation following the initial October 20th 2020 arrests and a second round of detentions earlier this year. The Dubliner and his girlfriend, a British woman known only as Sharon, were among six people initially held by police. His son Darren was held in the first wave of arrests. They took place following a lengthy police investigation into a drug smuggling gang Gilligan allegedly led which is believed to have started in 2018.

Detectives said at the time they had seized four kilos of cannabis and 15,000 powerful sleeping pills called zimmos which heroin addicts use to help them sleep and numb pain.

The raid on Gilligan's home in Torrevieja also led to the discovery of a rare gun described by Spanish police as the "same make and model" used to murder investigative reporter Veronica Guerin in 1996. Irish experts later said the .357 Magnum found buried in the pint-sized criminal's garden was not the weapon used to kill the crime reporter at traffic lights on the outskirts of Dublin in June 1996, although Spanish police made no official response.

Gilligan was released on bail less than two months after his arrest but banned from leaving Spain and ordered to sign on every fortnight at court as part of his release conditions. Four more suspected members of the “criminal gang” he was accused of leading were arrested in February.

They included former murder suspect 'Fat' Tony Armstong, who was held without charge in a Spanish prison for more than nine months after the bodies of gangsters Shane Coates and Stephen Sugg were discovered under a Costa Blanca warehouse he rented in July 2006. The judge's decision to invite prosecutors to formally charge

Gilligan and his alleged accomplices under Spanish law by submitting their written indictment was outlined in a document known in Spain as an “auto de procedimiento abreviado”.

It was issued against nine people for a drug-related crime, the crime of membership of a criminal organisation and in the case of two people understood to be Gilligan and his partner, a crime of illegal possession of a weapon. It is not known if prosecutors have charged all nine with the crimes recommended by the judge but well-placed Spanish legal sources have indicated normal practice in Spain would be for the indictment to closely match the investigating judge’s judicial ruling.

Once the prosecution and defence lawyers have made their written submissions, the judge is due to issue a new ruling stating the case is proceeding to trial before handing everything over to a new judge at a higher court who will oversee the trial itself. No date for the trial, expected to take place in a criminal court in Torrevieja some time next year, has yet been set.

Although prosecutors have so far declined to say what punishment they are seeking for Gilligan and his alleged accomplices, the procedure used to prosecute the Irishman under Spanish law is reserved for crimes carrying prison sentences of nine years or less. The judicial ruling linked to the future trial, made by the judge ahead of the presentation of the prosecution indictment, points to the suspects investigated "forming part of an organised gang based in Torrevieja and nearby Orihuela Costa".

Well-placed judicial sources said it also stated the gang's "principal illicit activity allegedly consisted of acquiring all types of drugs and facilitating to other organisations contacts with drug suppliers and the material means to transport them" as well as using courier firms to send drugs to Ireland. Police sources said at the time of the arrests the raid on the drugs baron's villa crucially took place as he was preparing a delivery to Ireland of cannabis and zimmos.

An insider said Gilligan was inside his home with part of the consignment and another two suspects were in a car outside with a further two boxes due to be sent via post. A Spanish National Police spokesman did not name Gilligan in a force statement at the time but said: "Investigators managed to intercept four postal deliveries in Spain in which four kilos of marihuana and 15,000 pills had been hidden.

“The well-known Irish criminal who allegedly headed the organisation was sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2001 in Ireland and served 17 years. “Irish investigators linked his organisation to the murder of the Irish journalist.”

The force added in its statement, before it was reported the gun was not the one used in the Veronica Guerin murder: “The revolver that has been found is the same mark and model as the one used in the assassination of an Irish journalist in Dublin in 1996. “Spanish officers are working with the Irish police to determine if it’s the same gun used to end her life.”