Monday 10 December 2018

'One shot to the head' - Estonian hitman texted associates after arriving in Ireland to carry out murder

Former wrestler Imre Arakas will be sentenced next month

Imre Arakas
Imre Arakas

Alison O'Riordan

An Estonian hitman who was put under surveillance after he flew into Ireland told his associates in a text message that he would take out his target with "one shot to the head", the non-jury Special Criminal Court heard today.

Ex-wrestler Imre Arakas, who the court heard was a former Estonian separatist who been "scarred deeply" by imprisonment in Russia, bought a wig in Dublin city and used an encrypted Blackberry phone to receive information about the movements and location of James Gately in Northern Ireland.

James 'Mago' Gately
James 'Mago' Gately

Imre Arakas (60), with an address in Sopruse, Tallinn, Estonia, admitted earlier this month to conspiring with others not before the court to murder James Gately in Northern Ireland between April 3 and April 4 last year, contrary to Section 71 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006.

Paul Greene SC, prosecuting, told the court today that the maximum sentence for such an offence is ten years in prison.

Dressed in a blue sleeved vest and wearing his silver hair long to his shoulders, Arakas sat in the dock facing the court during today's sentence hearing as Detective Inspector David Gallagher, from the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, summarised the facts of the case.

Det Insp Gallagher told Mr Greene that gardai began an intelligence-led investigation after they received confidential information that Mr Gately was to be targeted by a number of people who were involved in organised crime.

Imre Arakas - archived image from 1979
Imre Arakas - archived image from 1979

The witness said surveillance was carried out on a number of these people who were suspected of involvement in this operation. This information was “added to” when gardai learned Arakas was travelling on a plane from Alicante to Dublin.

Det Insp Gallagher agreed with counsel that gardai were interested in Arakas from information received from Europol as well as Spanish, Estonian and Lithuanian authorities. The defendant also had links to an organised crime gang in Ireland whose members were based in Spain and Dubai.

Arakas was placed under surveillance when he landed in Dublin airport on April 3, 2017 and he was followed on the Aircoach from Dublin Airport to the city centre where he walked around O’Connell Street, Abbey Street, Parnell Street as well as on the fringes of Summerhill.

Arakas was observed going into a shop on Moore Street where he purchased a wig as well as a mirror in a nearby discount store. He was also seen walking around Dublin 1 and other residential parts of the inner city over a number of hours and was using a blackberry phone.

Imre Arakas at the time of his arrest in 1979
Imre Arakas at the time of his arrest in 1979

The Estonian man was collected by a white Mercedes van from Summerhill at 8.20pm that evening and brought to Blakestown Cottages in Dublin 15 where he was seen entering the dwelling with another man. He spent the night at this address.

Following the execution of a warrant, Arakas was arrested at the west Dublin address by gardai at 11.25am the next day. Gardai entered the house through a rear door and found the defendant standing beside a single bed which was positioned in the living area.

The blackberry phone was found on the couch beside where the bed was located as well as a piece of paper with Estonian writing on it, which also had the name “James Gately...in Newry” written in English on it.

Det Insp Gallagher said when the Estonian writing from this note was translated it read: “Eight row, second picture visible”. The mirror which had been purchased the previous day was found in a bag as well as €835 and £410.

The witness said the blackberry phone was an encrypted device which was password protected. “It’s on an unique server which is not affiliated to the main phone service,” said Det Insp Gallagher, adding that this made access to its contents more difficult.

The court heard that the administrator on the group would need encrypted passwords to have formed the group. “The administrator can access, delete and remotely delete within that equipment group,” indicated Det Insp Gallagher.

The court heard that within minutes of the defendant’s arrest a “quick-thinking garda”, Gda Sean O’Neill, realised the material on the phone might become unavailable and photographed the thread of messages which were open on it.

Following this, the thread of messages were “almost instantly” and remotely deleted as gardai looked on.

The court heard the messages had contained conversations between four user names – “Ow new”, “Knife”, “Bon4” and “Bon new”.

Det Insp Gallagher gave a chronological account of the evidence to the court which had been garnered from these messages.

The first message was from user “Knife” on April 4 at 1.12pm to “Bon new” and read: “The car exits the rear of this building...from a shutter which opens up and down from a buzzer, there’s a ball camera above the entrance. Champagne colour Toyota Avensus. His parking space is as soon as the shutter opens directly in front of you. There’s a gym. He drives most days he seems to go to Newry and back”.[sic]

The next message was from User “Bon new” on April 4 at 10.17am to User “knife” and read: “Ok...And where can we see photos of him??”

The next message was from User “Knife” on April 4 at 1.12pm to User “Bon new” and read: “For the picture go into google write "James Gately...Dublin" go into images - the eight line of pictures it’s the second picture in, he has a black suit on and when he clicks on picture it has “James Gately” wrote under picture it’s a clear picture of him”.[sic]

These three messages had been forwarded from Bon 4 to the defendant's phone at 11.31am on April 4 and were consequently found on it by gardai, the court heard.

The next message from Arakas’s device to “Ow new” at 1.57pm read: “Well I go to internet soon and have a look. My plan was actually to go there tomorrow and for a day or two see the situation in real. Then perhaps I get a better plan.

"So far, in case I'm totally alone it seems its possible to take him down when he comes out of car. Its based on google maps pictures.

"Then there was an open car park behind the house but if they closed it the situation is another. If not at the car then on his way to the front door.

"There were huge advertisements on the way and looked like it’s possible to hide behind.

"The whole problem there is that there is nowhere to hide. Especially you wait for the moment he comes out of the door.

"Also silencer would be good. But especially it is good if the dog is really accurate because if the picture in google is the same that in real life it could be just one shot to the head from the distance and that’s it.

"Also there is a trick that won't allow him to close the front door behind him and I could follow him to the corridor. But it only works when the door frame is metallic but by the picture it looks plastic but I see there what I can do. Best regards”.[sic]

The final message from Bon 4 to Arakas’ device at 12.05pm read: “We have a tracker on his car so my idea is when he goes out in car we know he is coming back we tracks him live when he is heading back to his apt when he is 10 minutes away he get in position and he parks in the same space always so then you have him.”[sic]

Det Insp Gallagher said the time is based on the time zone of the particular user so it can’t be said to be fact. Arakas’ DNA was subsequently identified on his phone.

The court heard that the information on the handwritten note found tallied with the above evidence. On the back of the page were 15-digit code numbers written alongside the user names, which would have been the codes needed to enter the phone. The defendant's fingerprint was found on this page.

Gardai requested the assistance of the PSNI in this investigation and they confirmed that Mr Gately was residing at an apartment block and the details given in these text messages matched his location.

The court heard a tracking device was later found located under Mr Gately’s car, a Champagne coloured Toyota Avensis, and it had been placed there on March 30, 2017. CCTV footage showed that the occupants of a blue Peugeot van were responsible for placing this device on Mr Gately’s car and they had taken the ferry from Birmingham to Ireland on March 28, 2017.

Det Insp Gallagher agreed with Mr Greene that Arakas’ DNA and fingerprints had been obtained during his detention and he had made admissions about his involvement in the matter.

The Estonian man is married with two children, owns a property in Tallinn and prior to his arrest was living in rented accommodation in Spain. He was a member of the Estonian Defence League in the 1990’s and involved in the separatist movement from the old USSR.

The court heard that Arakas has four previous convictions which include causing deliberate bodily harm, escaping from prison and unlawful handling of firearms.

Det Insp Gallagher, agreed with Michael Bowman SC, for Arakas, that logistical arrangements were made before his client arrived in the country and he was not responsible for "wiping" the thread of communication.

The detective further agreed with counsel that Arakas was not part of the vertical chain of command which had been run by third parties but nonetheless he was performing an essential role. “There were a number of moving parts but the person who was going to pull the trigger would have had a very important role,” said Det Insp Gallagher. No firearm was ever unveiled, the court heard.

Mr Bowman said his client had been penalised harshly for the offences he had committed in Estonia and had got himself involved in a separatist movement to "cast off" Russian oppression. Arakas had a professional divers licence on him when he was arrested, added the barrister.

The witness said that while Arakas had no relations in this country, he definitely had “associates”. The court heard the defendant had a “stroke episode" on October 8 this year and was fitted with a device to monitor his heart.

Gardai learned that a fairly significant five figure sum of money was to be paid to Arakas for the hit on Gately. However, the defendant owed a debt which was considerably larger than the amount he was going to get paid and this would have been set against the figure.

In mitigating factors, Mr Bowman asked the court to consider that his client, an ex-wrestler, had two children and had received a lot of lengthy sentences in Russia which had scarred him deeply.

Another factor in mitigation, he said was his guilty plea and the fact he had acknowledged his role during garda interviews.

Mr Bowman submitted to the court that his client had found his period in custody difficult because his health was failing and he is a foreign national.

The defence counsel said a governor’s report from Portlaoise Prison outlined Arakas was a model prisoner and was serving his sentence in a segregated block.

“He was not at the apex of the organisation and had no act or part in the operational part of it,” concluded Mr Bowman, adding that his client was willing to leave Ireland as soon as he was released from custody.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, sitting with Judge Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin and Judge Cormac Dunne, remanded the defendant in custody until December 12, when he will be sentenced.

The High Court endorsed a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) from Lithuania in February this year in relation to serious charges Arakas will face there once his jail term is completed in Ireland.

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