IRA smugglers behind Aussie cigarette racket
Provos team up with shadowy Malay 'businessman' to flood the south Pacific with illegal cigarettes
The multi-million euro IRA cigarette smuggling ring busted by Spanish police at New Year had linked up with Malaysian-based racketeers supplying illicit tobacco to the Australian market, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Spanish police are seeking to question a Malaysian "businessman" and his wife who were supplying South Armagh Provisionals from South-east Asia.
It has also emerged that Provo smugglers have closely examined how new 'plain packaging' laws - due to be introduced in Ireland - have boosted the illicit tobacco trade in Australia.
The Malaysian businessman had a base in Spain and was in regular contact with the IRA gang whose tobacco was originating from Vietnam, Indonesia and China.
He was outside Spain - along with five other members of the Provo gang - when police raided premises in Lanzarote and the Spanish mainland over New Year.
The Spanish police detained ex-IRA bombers Leonard 'Bap' Hardy, originally from west Belfast, and his wife Donna Maguire.
Ms Maguire was released without charge and allowed to return to the family home in Dundalk after the seizure, but Hardy remains in prison pending the completion of the Spanish police investigations into alleged money laundering.
Spanish police said they seized properties and other assets valued at €6.5m and cash valued at €5m which the police allege are the proceeds of smuggling.
Spanish authorities are expected to seek the extradition of a Belfast couple, who have an address in north Co Dublin; their son, who still lives in the North; and two men from Dublin who also have homes in Spain.
They were all back home for Christmas in Ireland when the raids took place.
The Spanish police also arrested a Lanzarote-based Spanish solicitor who is facing charges of assisting in the laundering of proceeds of crime.
They also wish to question the Malaysian businessman and his wife, who were not in Spain when the raids took place on December 30 and 31.
The Malaysians are believed to have provided the South Armagh smugglers with the links to South-east Asian suppliers.
Gardai and Spanish police believe the links to the Asian suppliers has led the smugglers to the main suppliers of illicit tobacco. The same suppliers are flooding the Australian and New Zealand markets where tobacco tax is high.
The Sunday Independent has also learned that the same IRA operation was behind the haul of almost eight million cigarettes seized at Dublin Port last Tuesday week after being imported via Belgium.
The cigarettes were in covers bearing the fake brand name 'Manchester'. The same brand name has previously only turned up in large amounts in Australia.
The shipment seized in Dublin Port was on its way to a bogus furniture company believed to be a front for South Armagh IRA smugglers. Plain packaging for all cigarettes is expected to be introduced here later this year despite garda and customs' concerns it will boost illicit trade.
The investigations in Spain have thrown light on the multi-million euro illicit cigarette trade which has become one of the IRA's main sources of income, along with fuel laundering, since it "disbanded" a decade ago.
Gardai say the Provisional IRA still retains its "military" structure and confines its Irish criminal activities to fuel-laundering, cigarette- smuggling and counterfeiting.
Information emerging from the Spanish police investigations includes an alleged admission that the smugglers were paying 25pc of their profits to the IRA leadership.
Spanish police said the gang was laundering the proceeds by buying properties with mortgages, paying off the mortgages quickly with cash then selling on the properties.
The South Armagh smugglers were identified after a bizarre incident in the Suez Canal last July when al-Qaeda jihadis in Egypt fired a rocket that struck a huge cargo ship passing through the canal.
On inspection in Rotterdam, it emerged the container was packed with illicit cigarettes worth €3m. A tracking device was placed in the container and the container was stopped outside Dundalk.
Seven people were arrested, but no charges were brought - it is understood there was "mix-up" over the warrants for the stopping and searching of the lorry.