Massive blow to criminal gangs as drugs kingpin jailed for 18 years
INTERNATIONAL drug-trafficker Philip Baron, who has been sentenced to 18 years in jail, was the main "fixer" for the big organised crime gangs here.
Baron (58) was regarded as an expert on drugs importation and supplied gangs with key details of how to circumvent air and sea port checks in order to bring in the shipments of drugs successfully.
Operating from his base in a luxury home near the exclusive K Club in the north Kildare village of Straffan, Baron also laundered the gangs' profits by setting up false bank accounts and channelling the cash through a chain of car dealers.
Detectives from the garda national drugs unit cracked the code that Baron used to communicate by text and email with his own associates and the leaders of the Irish gangs.
Baron, a former truck driver from Salford, Manchester, had developed his own code to ensure nobody outside his circle could intercept the information he was passing on.
But gardai found crucial documentation when they carried out a number of raids and his papers revealed how the code operated.
Among Baron's main 'business' associates here was a gangster from the northside of Dublin, who acted as a right-hand man in this country for Ireland's biggest trafficker, Christy Kinahan.
Baron was also in regular contact with another serious drugs importer, who is originally from Crumlin but now lives, like Kinahan, in Spain and has a lot of associates in west Dublin.
Gardai have seized a number of major drug shipments belonging to this gang in the past couple of years.
Officers said last night that Baron's arrest and conviction was not only a huge achievement for police here and in the UK, but was also a body blow to organised crime in this country.
For two years prior to his arrest, Baron had been the top target of Operation Hinge, which was run by the drugs unit and the criminal assets bureau.
But, he was also at the top of the target list for Operation Beath, a joint enterprise between gardai and the British serious organised crime agency.
Sentencing Baron to 18 years' imprisonment yesterday at Liverpool Crown Court, Judge David Aubrey told him that his drugs operation had been driven by avarice and greed.
"It was a trade and an empire and you cared not for the lives of others," the judge said. "You may have destroyed lives, It may have led people to commit crime. It may have led to despair and desperation.
"None of that concerned you. You were only concerned with yourself and leading a lavish lifestyle."
The court heard that Baron was a leading figure in an international ring, who owned yachts and sports cars as well as luxury villas in Spain, all funded by drug money.
His cartel smuggled cocaine from South America to Spain and then to the UK while he also acted as the "go to" man for the Irish-based gangs.
The court was told Baron had imported two shipments of cocaine, totalling 60kg, with an estimated street value of €22.4m.
He admitted three counts: conspiracy to import cocaine between March and November, 2008; conspiracy to import cannabis between September 2005 and September 2009; and money laundering.
Prosecutor William Baker told the court that a recording device had been placed in the home of Baron's daughter, Rachel.
Rachel Baron was jailed for three years at an earlier hearing for picking up and distributing cash on her father's behalf.
The court heard that Philip Baron was "one of the organisers of a highly sophisticated criminal enterprise that imported drugs to the UK".
The drugs were shipped in document boxes labelled as technical manuals or brochures and were imported using legitimate couriers to "virtual offices" or rented premises.
Baron had sourced the cocaine from Costa Rica after making a trip there in November 2008.
When the cocaine was discovered, its purity was found to be 83pc. Street-level seizures usually have purities below 10pc.