Sunday 17 December 2017

Men accused of running counterfeiting operation

DENIES CHARGES: Kevin
Flanagan, one of the four
defendants
DENIES CHARGES: Kevin Flanagan, one of the four defendants

JIM CUSACK

A "COUNTERFEITING" shop in an underground bunker "in the middle of nowhere" was capable of producing €50 and €500 notes, dollars and travellers' cheques of "fantastic" quality, the Special Criminal Court heard last week.

The three-judge, non-jury court was hearing evidence in the case against four men arrested by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation after a raid on the bunker at Borris-in-Ossory, Co Laois, in April 2010. They are: Anthony Sloan, 57, a native of Belfast with an address at Ard na Mara, Dundalk, Co Louth; Liam Delaney, 41, of Borris-in-Ossory, Co Laois; Kevin Flanagan, 42, of Borris-in-Ossory; and Andrew Poole, 43, of Portlaoise, Co Laois.

All have pleaded not guilty to possession of equipment, including printers and cutting machines, to manufacture counterfeit currency at Ballybrophy, Borris-in-Ossory, on May 31, 2010.

During evidence last Wednesday the court heard from the former head of the counterfeiting section of the European police agency, Europol, Mr Daniel Vicente. He said the equipment he examined on behalf of the gardai would produce counterfeit euro notes "of much better quality than average and in high speed, large production".

He said the inkjet printers found in the bunker were, in his opinion, capable of producing counterfeits "of really good quality". He said the equipment was "absolutely professional equipment that provides better quality and faster production" than other counterfeiting operations he had examined during his 10 years in the Europol counterfeiting section.

The equipment he examined was capable of imitating the watermarks and foil holograms on high-denomination euro notes. He disagreed with defence counsel suggestions that the equipment was not capable of producing quality counterfeits. He said the quality of counterfeit currencies that could be produced would be "fantastic".

Mr Vicente said the equipment of the type he examined was capable of printing 100 pages per second or "two million per day", adding: "This is professional quality, above the average of printing shops we have found." He gave evidence of finding images on the memory of one of the printers of €50 and €500 notes.

On Thursday, the court heard from print suppliers in England who provided equipment and ink cartridges after being contacted by men claiming to represent printing businesses in Ireland.

Mr David Ball, of Caslon printing suppliers in Hertfordshire, England, told the court that he supplied Aegis watermarking equipment to a company with an address at Upper O'Connell Street, Kinsale, Co Cork, in January 2010. He said he communicated with a man calling himself Padraig King. He said the equipment could be used to simulate watermarking.

John Telling, managing director of Design Supplies, Eltham, London, told the court he supplied two Canon IPF 8100 printers at a cost of £9,273 (€11,500) to a company with an address at Leopardstown, Co Dublin, also in January 2010. He also supplied two vinyl cutting machines at a total cost of £19,798. Payment was made through a bank account in Newry, Co Down, his records showed.

Mr Andrew Dix, of Advanced Inkjet Systems, Lewes, Sussex, said he supplied ink cartridges to an address at Lombard Street, Dublin 2, in April 2010. The 32 cartridges suitable for use with the Canon printers cost £2,806, he said.

Mr Neill Roberts, of Graphtec in north Wales, said he supplied two cutting machines, which were paid for and collected by an Irishman driving a long-wheelbase Mercedes van.

The four witnesses were shown photographs of equipment found in the underground bunker in Co Laois and confirmed that serial numbers and order forms coincided with equipment they had supplied.

The court heard from members of a nine-man team from an armed unit of the Special Detective Unit who gave evidence of storming a Portakabin at Borris-in-Ossory on the afternoon of May 31, 2010. Five officers gave evidence of arresting the four accused and finding a trap-door into a tunnel descending to two adjoining bunkers containing printing equipment. They also gave evidence of seeing an image of a €500 note pinned to a wall above one of the printers.

Detective Inspector Michael Murphy, of the garda documents and handwriting section, told the court he too descended to the bunker and noted the equipment and other material there. He told the court: "My opinion is that this was set up as an illegal printing shop to print currencies and other documents of value."

He said that on subsequent inspection he found software images on the printing equipment of €50 and €500 notes, dollar bills, sterling and travellers' cheques. He said: "I have to say that the machines found in the bunker, in my opinion, could be used to make counterfeit currency and counterfeit security documents."

He said that after the printer was set the printing would "run continuous". He agreed that no printing plates or dyes or paper suitable for printing currency were found in the bunker.

Mr Kieran Conran, of the Central Bank's national analysis centre, told the court that in 2011 his unit received about 20,000 counterfeit notes. He said about 25 per cent of these had been printed by inkjet printers. He said the number of counterfeit notes that came to his attention in 2011 was "a bit on the higher side of average".

Paul Hughes, former managing director of a Dublin print firm, called as an expert witness by the defence, said, in his opinion, that any counterfeit currency produced on the equipment found in the bunker "would be very inferior". He said, in his view, it would take 100 hours of work to produce an image of a €50 note together with the watermarks and foil holograph.

However, under cross-examination by counsel for the prosecution, he agreed that the equipment could be used to produce counterfeit currency of sufficient quality that could be "sold to innocent third parties".

He was then asked by Judge Paul Butler: "The evidence in this case is that these machines were found in a bunker in the middle of nowhere concealed beneath a Portakabin and under concrete with a supply of electricity and machines with memories of certain currencies. What is your opinion of that?"

Mr Hughes replied: "It could be set up for the production of counterfeits."

All four defendants deny the charges.

The trial continues on Tuesday.

Sunday Independent

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