Elderly and ill alleged ringleader of forgery racket fights extradition
Official IRA and Workers' Party member Sean Garland is accused of a plot to undermine the dollar, writes Jim Cusack
Published 31/07/2011 | 05:00
It was just hard to envisage the Navan pensioner sitting in the body of Court 21 on the sixth floor of the new Criminal Courts in Dublin being at the centre of an international conspiracy involving the KGB and North Korea in a plot to undermine the US dollar.
Sean Garland, a 77-year-old man who suffers from cancer, angina and diabetes, was clearly anxious as his lawyers argued against his extradition to the US. His breathing was heavy at times.
The US has been seeking Mr Garland's extradition since May 2005 when a federal grand jury indicted him for trading in forged $100 bills as part of, what it says, was a conspiracy beginning in the then Soviet Union in the early 1990s and continuing and expanding to involve North Korea -- a place Mr Garland visited several times during the period of the alleged international counterfeiting operation.
Assistant US attorney Brenda Johnson's affidavit before the High Court held that: "This case involved a long-standing and large-scale supernotes distribution network (the Garland organisation) based in the Republic of Ireland and headed by Sean Garland, a senior officer in the Irish Workers' Party."
The US Secret Service, an agency whose dual role is to protect the US president and to track down people who counterfeit dollars, "discovered the supernotes were sourced in the Democratic Republic of North Korea and transported around the world by North Korean officials travelling under diplomatic cover".
The US further alleges that Mr Garland and six co-conspirators, a Russian, a South African and four Englishmen, used couriers to transport supernotes and payments around the world.
Much of the case is based on testimony of the alleged accomplices in England who claim to have bought €250,000 worth of the fake $100 notes after first meeting Mr Garland in a Radisson Hotel in Moscow in April 1998. Scandinavian Airlines records were produced to show that at the relevant time -- and on a second occasion when it was claimed more fake notes were bought -- Mr Garland was in Moscow.
The whole affair goes back much further, to a garda raid on a warehouse on Hanover Quay in November 1983 which uncovered a stack of near-perfect Irish £5 notes the size of a bale of hay and worth some £1.7m. They also found near-perfect car taxation discs, driving licences and Irish Life cheques.
The group responsible for the forgery operation -- by far the biggest ever to have existed in Ireland -- was the supposedly defunct Official IRA.
The Official IRA was supposed to have disbanded and buried its weapons in 1973 but it continued in existence under the semi-secret soubriquet 'Group B'.
The point of the forgery operation in Dublin was not just to finance the political wing, the Workers' Party, but to spread the doctrine of Marxism in Ireland and abroad, according to former members.
After the raid, Group B's master forger fled the State -- he is still wanted by gardai -- and was believed to have travelled via Scandinavia to East Germany, then the German Democratic Republic (GDR) under the arch-Stalinist Erich Honecker, ruler of one of the most oppressive regimes in history.
From the GDR the Group B master printer -- originally from Cork -- moved to Moscow and in league with the KGB set up the US$100 note counterfeit operation. Former members of the Official IRA in Belfast told the Sunday Independent some years ago that elderly couples were sent on Soviet state-sponsored "education" trips to Moscow and returned with bundles of the notes in their luggage, easily slipping through customs as harmless pensioners.
With the collapse of the Eastern Bloc communist dictatorships Group B turned its attentions to North Korea, along with China one of the few remaining communist dictatorships left. North Korea, according to the US affidavit, used diplomatic bags to transport the counterfeits around the world, as part of a bizarre plot, it is said, to undermine the dollar.
Three weeks before Mr Garland was arrested while attending a Workers' Party conference in Belfast in September 2005, the US announced it was freezing $25m in assets held by Banco Delta Asia in Macau.
However, Mr Garland's supporters say no evidence was produced at the hearing to link him to the conspiracy or that he had ever handled the notes. They say the case was "presented in the state of siege atmosphere that pervaded the US in the wake of 9/11, when George W Bush portrayed North Korea as part of an 'axis of evil' plotting the imminent destruction of America".
The US government attorney at the hearing in Washington in May 2005 asked and was granted permission to have the decision of the jury kept secret as Mr Garland was an Irish citizen and "as it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain his extradition from Ireland".
Unaware of his indictment in Washington, Mr Garland was arrested by the PSNI four months later when he travelled to Belfast for the conference.
He was later granted bail and moved back to his home in Co Meath from where he has been fighting the extradition moves since.
Last week in the High Court, his counsel repeatedly made the point that given Mr Garland's state of health, extradition and incarceration in a US jail would be an effective "death sentence". Evidence was given about the poor state of health care in the US prison system. This was denied by the US attorney seeking the extradition.
Since the moves began here to extradite him an extraordinary line-up of members from all political parties in Ireland, trade unions, academics and former IRA associates dating from the Fifties have come together to support him and oppose the extradition.
Several supporters made the point that Mr Garland was one of the key figures that brought about the 1973 Official IRA ceasefire and bitterly opposed what he and others described as the fascist and sectarian campaign of the Provisional IRA.
Other supporters included seven remaining members who joined Mr Garland, as a young IRA man, on the raid on Brookeborough RUC barracks in Fermanagh on New Year's Day, 1957.
Many former Official IRA and Workers' Party members have also spoken in support against sending the ill 77-year-old to a near probable "death sentence" in a US jail.
Last Thursday Mr Garland was surrounded by family, friends and supporters in court as Judge John Edwards heard final submissions from his counsel and counsel for the Attorney General. He put back judgement until the next term of the High Court in October.