Sunday 20 October 2019

'One shot to the head' hitman jailed for six years by Special Criminal Court

Imre Arakas (Image: Tiit Blaat/Delfi/Ekspress Meedia)
Imre Arakas (Image: Tiit Blaat/Delfi/Ekspress Meedia)

Alison O'Riordan

An Estonian hitman who was contracted by an international crime cartel and boasted to his associates in coded text messages that he would take out his target with "one shot to the head" has been jailed by the Special Criminal Court for six years.

Presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt said today that Imre Arakas agreed to the "vital role" of pulling the trigger and he had been prepared to offer his "own detail" on how the murder was to be performed. “He was ready, willing and able in this dedicated role,” remarked the judge.

Ex-wrestler and father-of-two Imre Arakas is a former Estonian separatist who the three-judge court heard had been "scarred and marked deeply" by imprisonment in Russia.

The contract killer 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. He also requested a silencer for the attack.

Imre Arakas (60), with an address in Sopruse, Tallinn, Estonia, admitted last month to conspiring with others not before the court to murder James Gately in Northern Ireland between April 3rd and April 4th last year, contrary to Section 71 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006. The maximum sentence for the offence is ten years in prison.

Passing sentence today, Mr Justice Hunt said the conspiracy in this case was directed at the commission of the most serious offence of murder. “This murder was planned in a very sophisticated manner and in the context of an on-going feud,” he said, adding that it involved long-range planning, surveillance and the deployment of significant technology and resources.

The judge said Arakas agreed to the “vital role” of pulling the trigger for financial gain or for it to be "set-off” against a larger sum which he owed. Without his involvement the planning would have been useless, Mr Justice Hunt said.

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

Referring to Arakas, the judge noted that he had been recruited from abroad, had travelled to this country for the purpose of killing Mr Gately and the message thread showed he was prepared to offer his own detail on how the murder was to be performed.

Mr Justice Hunt said this offence was not carried out in the end because of the excellent work from gardai, who had prevented "another execution type of murder", rather than any constraint by the defendant.

The judge complimented the "quick-thinking" action by Garda Sean O'Neill, who retrieved text messages from a phone seized during Arakas' arrest and without whom the prosecution of this offence would have been made more difficult.

This murder was stopped because of gardai and not the unwillingness of Arakas, Mr Justice Hunt said, adding that there was a strong factual case against the defendant with much time, effort and resources devoted by gardai.

Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said the headline sentence was nine years in prison.

He noted that defence counsel for Arakas, Michael Bowman SC, had made a “careful plea” in mitigation and identified his guilty plea as the most significant mitigating factor. “This plea had a significant value although it was not entered at the earliest time," the judge remarked.

Mr Justice Hunt said Arakas had some “serious previous convictions” but they were committed in a very different legal context some time ago. The defendant has four previous convictions which include causing deliberate bodily harm, escaping from prison and unlawful handling of firearms.

Other mitigating factors in sentencing, Mr Justice Hunt said, were his significant health difficulties, his cooperation with the investigation, his limited supply of support in this jurisdiction and the fact he was not in good health.

The judge said a governor’s report from Portlaoise Prison outlined the defendant was serving his sentence in a segregated block. “We accept his time in custody will be somewhat more difficult than a prisoner who is younger and in good health,” he indicated.

His barrister had previously submitted to the non-jury court that Arakas had found his period in custody difficult because his health was failing and he is a foreign national.

The judge said Arakas was entitled to a combined discount of three years for these mitigating factors.

Sentencing the defendant today, Mr Justice Hunt sitting with Judge Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin and Judge Cormac Dunne, sentenced Arakas to six years imprisonment, backdated to April 4, 2017 when he went into custody.

In conclusion, Mr Justice Hunt noted that Arakas was essential to the plan and determined.

Dressed in a blue sleeved vest and wearing his silver hair long to his shoulders, Arakas sat in the dock facing the court and did not react when the sentence was revealed. However, he enthusiastically shook hands with his lawyers after the sentence was handed down.

Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice today, Detective Superintendent Seamus Boland, of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, said today's conviction is part of An Garda Siochana's "continued relentless pursuit" of people who are willing to target others for assassination.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to thank our colleagues in Europol and our colleagues in the police service of Northern Ireland and also the members of An Garda Siochana without whose commitment and dedication this murderous conspiracy would have succeeded. An Garda Siochana will continue to invest the necessary resources to ensure others who are involved in this conspiracy are brought before justice in the Irish courts and that our communities are kept safe from people who are willing to target for murder for financial gain," he said.

Defence counsel for Arakas previously submitted to the court that his client was not at the apex of the organisation and had no act or part in the operational part of it. He said Arakas would be willing to leave Ireland as soon as he was released from custody.

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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