GARDAI have smashed a major drugs network responsible for importing more than €40m worth of cannabis into Ireland and the UK in the space of only 18 months.
The alleged mastermind and another suspect were last night in custody after a series of raids by gardai in Meath and Dublin.
It was the culmination of months of police work, which involved gardai linking with their counterparts in the Netherlands, the UK and Germany.
The drugs were being posted from the Netherlands concealed in computer parts.
It is believed up to 2,000kg of cannabis was smuggled in this way.
Yesterday's raids came about following a lengthy investigation, codenamed Majesty, and were carried out by officers from the Garda National Drugs Unit at Dublin Castle.
The suspected kingpin, a 35-year-old man, was detained in north inner city Dublin. He has an address in Co Meath, but is from the capital.
An Albanian man, who is alleged to have acted as a courier for the gang boss, was detained in Co Meath.
Seven premises were also searched in Meath and Dublin, and gardai believe they have obtained fresh evidence that could link Irish criminals to drugs seizures made by police in the Netherlands.
It is believed that the Dutch side of the network is controlled by a major crime family, and members of this group are among the top targets for police in the Netherlands.
Operation Majesty was launched last year after the seizure in Ireland of 52kg of cannabis with a street value of more than €1m.
In follow-up searches, gardai seized a US-manufactured sub-machine gun, an Italian-made 9mm pistol, a Belgian 9mm pistol and silencer, a quantity of grenades and 321 rounds of assorted ammunition.
Further inquiries by the garda unit, led by Det Chief Supt John McMahon, established that an Irish crime gang was closely linked to an international network trafficking cannabis herb across Europe.
Gardai have since established that a total of around 2,000kg of herb with a street value of more than €40m has been smuggled into Ireland and the UK through the post since early last year.
Gardai worked closely with customs officers and several private couriers and uncovered a number of "virtual" companies which had been set up by the crime gang to collect the parcels of drugs.
The parcels were delivered by An Post to the addresses supplied and then collected by an Albanian, who is alleged to be part of the gang.
Drugs were hidden in computer parts and office equipment, including shredders.
They were being brought into this country in relatively small shipments of between 5kg and 15kg at a time, and the gang was sending up to 10 parcels a week. The current street price of herbal cannabis is €20,000 a kilo.
Gardai set up an operation with the Rotterdam organised crime unit in the Netherlands, and both were backed up by police in Germany and the UK.
Undercover work by garda officers led to the identification of a number of Dutch-based criminals who were placed under regular surveillance by the Rotterdam unit.
The suspects were also watched by gardai when they flew here to make contact with their Irish associates.
Garda intelligence-gathering led to around 10 gang members being identified, while officers also pinpointed a series of locations that were being used for the storage and distribution of the cannabis.
Regular meetings were held earlier this year between the senior investigating officer from the garda unit, Det Insp Rob Smyth, and officers attached to the PSNI and the Rotterdam organised crime unit.
This led to a strategy being drafted in March on how to tackle the links between the criminals.
Around this time, Dutch police stopped and searched a truck with two Irish-registered vehicles on board.
During a search, they discovered more than €150,000 hidden in the tyres of one of the vehicles.
Gardai believe this money was sent from Ireland by the alleged Irish ringleader as payment for another shipment of drugs.
Then in May, police raided a premises in Moerdijk in the southern Netherlands and recovered 40kg of cannabis herb. They arrested several suspects, including a Moroccan man based in the Netherlands, who was allegedly the main link with the criminals in Ireland.
Further searches resulted in the seizure of about €2m in cash and 20 high-value vehicles, including a Rolls-Royce and three Bentley cars and six Harley Davidson motorcycles, as well as details of up to 60 bank accounts and 40 mobile phones.
A large mobile home was also subsequently seized.
Several garda units and officers from the PSNI were involved in the operation.
Gardai said the level of co-operation shown by the Rotterdam organised crime unit had been crucial to the success of the operation.
German police also played a vital role in the investigation as some of the parcels had been re-routed there.
They intercepted around 10kg of cannabis at a German airport as the shipment was about to be sent to Ireland.
- Tom Brady Security Editor
Operation Majesty was launched by the Garda National Drug Unit in the middle of last year and culminated in yesterday's arrests and searches. During the operation, gardai, along with police in the Netherlands and Germany, seized a total of €2.5m in cash, cannabis herb with a street value of €2.5m, firearms, ammunition, grenades and a fleet of high-value cars and motorcycles.
2012: The biggest seizure was made last year when gardai recovered 52 kilos of cannabis herb, with a street value of €1.04m.
In follow-up searches, gardai seized a US-manufactured sub-machine gun, an Italian-made 9mm pistol, a Belgian-made 9mm pistol and silencer and 321 rounds of ammunition.
November 2012: German police intercepted 10 kilos of cannabis herb at a local airport as the shipment was about to be sent to Dublin.
March 2013: Dutch police seized about 20 kilos of cannabis in three searches in the Netherlands.
A key meeting was held in the Netherlands between the senior investigating officer from the garda unit, Detective Inspector Rob Smyth, and officers attached to the PSNI and the Rotterdam organised-crime unit. They worked to develop a strategy on how to smash the links between the Irish crime gang and their Dutch associates and sever the cannabis smuggling route through the post.
April 2013: Dutch police stopped and searched a truck and seized two Irish-registered vehicles. They found €150,000 concealed in the tyres of one vehicle, and gardai believe the money had been sent over by the Irish gang boss as payment for another drugs shipment.
May 2013: Police raided a premises in Moerdijk in the Netherlands and recovered 40 kilos of cannabis herb, and arrested key suspects there.
Further searches there led to the seizure of €2m in cash and 20 high-value vehicles, including a Rolls Royce, three Bentleys and six Harley Davidson motorcycles.
August 2013: Plans for a series of swoops on the suspected main players here were finalised at further meetings between the forces.
September 13, 2013: The operation culminated in searches and arrests, carried out by the Garda National Drug Unit at locations in counties Meath and Dublin.