Why exactly is the Kinahan cartel all over the news again?

A major law enforcement campaign has been unveiled. But why now and will it end the cartel?

Why exactly is the Kinahan cartel all over the news again?

In the past few days a major new international law enforcement campaign, directed at the cartel, has been unveiled. It involves the Garda, of course, but American and British law enforcement also have key roles. The US authorities have decided to make a very significant effort and have, for the first time, joined the fight against the cartel in a very overt and aggressive way.

Why hasn’t this been happening before now?

The cartel has effectively been growing for 20 years and for much of that time the Garda and the police in Britain have investigated cartel members. The Spanish authorities have also been involved at times. But in 2016, when the Kinahan-Hutch feud erupted, things changed. The cartel carried out a rapid series of murders in Ireland and the Garda began a major crackdown. Over the past six years most of the cartel's Irish-based members have been jailed or have fled abroad. And in the UK, cartel members – including its leader in Britain, Thomas "Bomber" Kavanagh – have been investigated and jailed. But while the Garda and British have enjoyed very significant success against the cartel, its leadership is based in Dubai. It means a co-ordinated international effort is required to reach the Kinahans – Christy snr, Daniel and Christopher jnr – and their inner circle. So having the Americans involved now is that next phase. If a smaller country like Ireland truly wants to tackle a very wealthy and powerful transnational gang, American help is required.

So what are the Americans doing?

They have placed the three Kinahans and four of their closest criminal associates on an economic sanctions list, which was announced in the US late on Monday night Irish time. It means the three Kinahans, four of their associates and three companies they own or control, are locked out of the US banking and corporate system. They cannot do business there and anyone who knows of them carrying on commercial activities or having assets in the US must report that to the authorities so the business dealings can be stopped and the assets frozen. They will also not be able to travel on US airlines.

At an event for the media in Dublin yesterday officers from the Garda, British police and US law enforcement agencies spoke about the cartel. It was announced that a significant reward was being offered to bring the Kinahans to justice. The Americans have offered $5 million to anyone who can supply information leading to the arrest and conviction of Christy snr, Daniel or Christopher jnr – $15 million in total. So between the US sanctions and the reward being offered, a huge flurry of publicity has been generated over the past couple of days. Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said more sanctions could follow and he believes the Kinahans' comfortable world in Dubai has become more difficult.

In real terms, will this end the cartel?

Probably not. It is very likely they will continue with their international drugs business. Daniel Kinahan also has a significant role in making deals in professional boxing. Again, that may continue. But now it will be impossible, or certainly much harder, for him to do deals – even in an unofficial capacity – for very lucrative boxing matches because most of them have a US component, including broadcasting deals. In short, when the Americans put a $5 million reward out for you, it stigmatises you globally. It will be very hard for Daniel Kinahan to continue with his claim he is just a businessman trying to make his way in the world. It will be hard for pro boxing to brush off the sheer scale of US law enforcement now bearing down on Kinahan.

Are the authorities from the UAE involved in this operation?

No, they are not. And that’s a major problem. UAE has long been regarded as a safe haven for dubious wealth and the Kinahan cartel is said to have generated €1 billion, much of that from drug dealing. The UAE authorities haven’t really co-operated with the Garda on the Kinahan case and we also have no extradition treaty with them. So the Kinahans are relatively safe there, so far. They can live in luxury. With the Americans now very publicly joining the Irish effort against the cartel, the attitude of UAE towards the Kinahans may change and they may find Dubai a little less welcoming. But in UAE, we are dealing with a country with no great commitment to aiding Ireland’s law enforcement effort.

So if the Kinahans stay in Dubai, they can’t be touched?

It’s hard to know exactly what will happen next and, specifically, what will happen to Daniel Kinahan’s place in the pro boxing world. But what we do know is that over the past six years, since the Kinahan- Hutch feud erupted, the Garda has wiped out the cartel’s Irish operation and the British police have hit cartel members similarly hard. Now we are into a new phase in trying to tackle the leadership of the gang; a transnational group based in an “out-of-reach” jurisdiction. But having the Americans now very publicly in our camp is a massive win as this next phase of the campaign against the cartel gets under way. So it will be very interesting indeed to see what happens in coming months and years.

So do you think all three Kinahans will finally be caught?

All three? Not sure. At least one of them? Yes. Daniel is the most exposed and the Garda already has evidence they believe links him to cartel crimes. He also has the highest profile and has trampled on a lot of people so he has most to fear from the reward now being offered for his capture. It’s a safe bet to say he is the most likely of the trio to face charges. But there could be a long road ahead, which is precisely why it’s so important to have the resources of the Americans.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times