Customs secrets on drugs `sting' stolen


SECRET customs documents on an operation which led to the seizure of 13 tonnes of cannabis at Urlingford, Co Kilkenny, a year ago have been stolen and may be in criminal or IRA hands.

The documents are understood have been in a briefcase which stolen from a customs officer's car near the National Drugs Team's offices in Lord Edward Street, Dublin, last month.

A Garda assistant commissioner and detective superintendent have been appointed to investigate the theft.

There are indications that the documents have already made their way into the hands of Provisional IRA figures associated with the anti-drugs campaigns in Dublin. It is assumed the documents have been photocopied and copies may also be in criminal hands.

The Urlingford seizure on November 8th last year was hailed as the largest ever in the history of the State.

However, it is understood the seizure was, in fact, the end of a "controlled delivery" operation in which a Garda informant had worked as an agent to set up the cannabis deal with an Irish trafficker based in Amsterdam and the drugs were monitored by gardai and the Naval Service from the time the consignment entered Irish waters, off west Cork.

The intention was to allow the drugs to continue on to Dublin and then arrest a group of major drug dealers who intended to buy the consignment.

However, the operation was compromised as the drugs arrived in the country. The day before the seizure was announced, a journalist in Cork had already begun telephoning the Garda and Defence Forces press offices for information about the operation.

The operation was aborted. The following morning gardai allowed the haul of cannabis, in a container lorry parked outside Urlingford, to be filmed for television and gave the impression the drugs had been intercepted at this point.

There are now fears that the customs documents on the highly secret aspects of the operation could assist criminals to identify individuals who had been helpful to the Garda. There are already considerable differences between the Garda and the customs authorities over the operation. Immediately after Urlingford there was a rash of recrimination between the two.

However, the official Government line was that the seizure was the result of co-operation between customs, Garda and Naval Service with no mention of the more sensitive and controversial aspects of the case.

Some information released in the media at the time is now accepted as having been false.