A BUSINESSMAN who is regarded as a kingpin in the cross-Border fuel laundering trade has been arrested by gardai after a major cigarettes seizure.
The cigarettes have a retail value of €4.3m and represent a potential loss to the Exchequer of €3.7m.
Two of the four are top targets for the Customs in their fight against illegal laundering and cigarette smuggling.
The suspects were arrested by armed officers yesterday after gardai and Customs intercepted a truck taking a shipment of nine million cigarettes from Dublin Port towards the Border.
Detectives from the Organised Crime Unit stopped the truck and another vehicle at a service station on the M1 motorway, near Castlebellingham, Co Louth.
The seizure was the culmination of an intelligence-led operation led by Assistant Garda Commissioner Derek Byrne.
Officers monitored the truck as it left the port with the shipment before arresting the four on suspicion of evading excise duties under the Finance Act.
Gardai carried out nine follow-up searches in private residences and business premises in Louth and Dublin and seized tractors and other agricultural equipment, worth about €90,000.
Those vehicles were understood to have been stolen by a cross-Border gang, who specialised in transporting the vehicles to the UK and mainland Europe for shipping to the African continent.
One member of that gang, from Co Monaghan, was extradited to Belgium where he was sentenced to four years' imprisonment.
An operation, codenamed Segund, which spanned 11 jurisdictions and involved the Garda's stolen vehicles unit, led to the recovery of €7m of stolen machinery and resulted in a 50pc drop here in the number of reported tractor thefts in 2011.
The fuel laundering kingpin is alleged to be at the top of a criminal pyramid, which has links to republican groups.
At one stage, he fell out with his republican accomplices.
He was given a severe beating and threatened he would not survive if he "crossed" them again.
CAB officers were involved with the gardai in searches of the offices of a solicitor and an accountant during yesterday's operation.
Follow-up inquiries into the cigarette shipment seizure and a detailed examination of documentation seized during the garda swoops will now be carried out.
A major debate about fuel laundering, cigarette smuggling and other cross-border rackets will be held today at an annual police gathering involving the gardai and the PSNI.
Among the contributors to the conference in Dundalk will be officers from the Organised Crime Unit.