GAA coach was 'forced to carry out VAT fraud'
Manager 'served time to protect his family from loyalist racketeers'
Published 18/10/2015 | 02:30
A leading GAA figure was forced to spend a year in prison for VAT fraud he did not commit because he believed the lives of his family to be under threat from loyalist racketeers, it is being claimed.
Gerry Moane, a leading GAA coach who was tipped for the position of Fermanagh County Manager, was under 'serious and intense' pressure from the loyalist mob who have also forged links to republican racketeers along the Border, friends said.
At one stage Mr Moane (48) was attacked by the gang while fixing a roof on a byre at his home in Co Fermanagh and knocked 20 feet to the ground suffering severe injuries. He was subsequently held at gunpoint and was told the gang were watching his children and knew of their movements.
Faced with threats to his family after years of being forced to pay over an estimated total £766,000 (€1.036m), Mr Moane did not mount a defence in his case before Dungannon Crown Court in September last year and was sentenced to 16 months' imprisonment. He was released with remission some weeks ago.
The Sunday Independent approached Mr Moane last week. He did not deny that he was the subject of the prolonged and vicious intimidation but said he did not wish speak publicly for the present.
Sources have told this newspaper that the gang responsible for the campaign of terror against Mr Moane, who ran a successful agricultural contracting business, is led by a well-known loyalist figure in the Border area. The gang uses the name Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), but it is known that it has no links to the actual UVF that declared its ceasefire in 1994.
The gang has close links to 'republicans' who continue to operate under the name Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), a criminal off-shoot of the IRA which was responsible for dozens of murders and almost wiped itself out in bloody internal feuding in the 1990s.
The INLA group, also based in the Border area, and the loyalists derive a substantial amount of their income from smuggled cigarettes and diesel, which they buy from the Provisional IRA in south Armagh. Both groups have close links with another Loyalist mob in Ballymena, Co Antrim, who are heavily involved in the tobacco and drugs business.
None of those involved in the violent racketeering played any significant role in the 'Troubles' when the loyalists and republicans regularly killed each other. They are now "on good terms", sources said, through their joint involvement in racketeering.
The leader of the loyalist group is a well-known maverick figure who never had any involvement in the original UVF. His gang includes members of an extended loyalist/criminal family in Co Armagh.
Security sources said the fact that this vicious gang has been able to operate freely in the Border is further evidence of what they said is a vacuum in policing and security along the Border from Louth to Donegal which has sprung up since the withdrawal of police from both sides.
During Mr Moane's court appearance his defence mentioned in mitigation that he had come under pressure from loyalist paramilitaries. But, because Mr Moane was not prepared to give evidence - out of fear of retribution on his family - Judge Gemma Loughran said she could not accept his allegations.
The judge said that despite the many glowing references she would be failing in her duty to allow that to influence her unduly in sentencing him for VAT evasion over a six-year period from February 2006 to July 2012, and involved him making false VAT returns ranging from £17,875 to £132,150, with a total loss to the revenue of £766,000.
A lawyer for the prosecution said he was not prepared to accept Moane's claims that he was being forced to pay protection money to loyalists who were orchestrating the VAT frauds.
Mr Moane's defence barrister said it was his client's version that he was approached by others to submit these false VAT returns and that when monies were paid "his instructions" were to pass those monies on.
A large number of good character references, including one from Fr Brian D'Arcy, were submitted on behalf of Mr Moane.
The court heard that as a coach for many GAA teams Mr Moane has made "a huge contribution to the community in which he has lived". He had never previously come to the attention of the PSNI or gardai.
While in Maghaberry Prison Mr Moane missed the birth of his first grandchild as well as Christmas with his family. His business effectively collapsed and, his friends said, he and his family have had to endure financial hardship on top of the threats from the gangsters.