Kingpin Kinahan's 'right-hand man' is released on bail
Published 31/05/2010 | 05:00
ONE of the Irishmen arrested in Spain as part of a global crackdown on a crime empire allegedly headed by Irish drug trafficker Christy Kinahan was enjoying his first day of freedom for nearly a week yesterday after being freed by a judge.
John Cunningham (58), Kinahan's reputed right-hand man, was expected to be sent to jail with a string of other suspects, including Kinahan and his two sons.
But judge Maria Carmen Gutierrez Henares released him on bail after questioning nearly 20 people over three days in the Costa del Sol resort of Estepona.
The closed-court hearings followed the arrests of 22 people in dawn raids on the Costa del Sol after a two-year police investigation into a multi-million euro drug-trafficking and money-laundering organisation.
Christy Kinahan (53) and sons Daniel and Christopher were sent to jail by the judge and face up to four years in prison awaiting trial while the probe continues.
But Cunningham was free on bail on Saturday night after the behind-closed-doors hearing. He took advantage of a media scrum as the Kinahans were escorted from the court building in handcuffs to slip out a side exit with his lawyer after being granted bail.
Convicted in 1986 of the kidnapping of Guinness heiress Jennifer Guinness, Cunningham is thought to have been told to return to court every Monday as part of his bail conditions.
It is understood Cunningham will have to return to court No 3 in Estepona later today to fulfill those conditions and avoid having an international arrest warrant issued against him. He left court late on Saturday night, four days after his arrest in a dawn raid and 24 hours after a judge finished questioning him and extended his detention period so she could decide whether to remand him in jail or release him on bail.
Cunningham, who is said to move between Spain and Holland, is also believed to have been asked to surrender his passport.
Court officials have yet to make any official comment.
But a source close to the case said: "Cunningham told the judge he was on holiday in Spain when he was arrested and has nothing to do with a crime gang.
"He is still under investigation and remains a suspect but he has been released on bail while the probe continues."
Around half of the 18 suspects questioned by the judge between Thursday and Saturday are thought to have been sent to jail.
Most are being held in Alhaurin de la Torre prison near the resort of Malaga.
Cunningham's current location is unknown. His lawyer was unavailable for comment yesterday.
After last Tuesday's arrests, police said the criminal gang allegedly led by Christy Kinahan owned property worth €500m in Brazil and €160m in Spain.
Spanish interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the gang was being investigated over a number of murders as well as money laundering and drugs and people trafficking.
Nine people were arrested in the UK and one in Ireland as part of the same police operation, which was coordinated by Europol.
Kinahan and his sons are formal suspects in the ongoing judicial investigation and are expected to be held in jail for at least two years.
Under Spanish law they will not be formally charged until shortly before trial.