Monday 21 January 2019

Gardai on alert as 'highly organised' ATM robbery gang leader set to be freed

Cash machine Photo: Getty
Cash machine Photo: Getty

Ken Foy

Gardai are to watch “very, very closely” an ATM robbery mastermind – whose mob is suspected of using gas to blow up cash machines in order to rob them – who is set to be freed from jail.

The “highly organised” Romanian criminal is due to be released from custody in Northern Ireland in the coming weeks, despite being recently convicted of conspiring to blow up an ATM at a filling station in Co Armagh almost four years ago.

Sources said that gardai expect him to return to the Balbriggan area of Dublin, where he had been based before being arrested as part of a major investigation led by the PSNI, backed up by the garda’s Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

“If he returns to this jurisdiction, he will be watched very, very closely – this individual is a key member of a gang with international crime dimensions,” a senior source said.

More than two years ago, a specialist crime unit was set up by gardai to target a gang carrying out multiple attempted ATM robberies.

The gang had become known for using gas to blow up ATM machines to rob cash.

Sources said members of the gang were investigated for at least 10 botched burglaries, including attempts in Drogheda, Leixlip, Greystones and Rathfarnham, but were never arrested in this jurisdiction.

There has been a dramatic drop in this type of crime in the last two years, which sources say is linked to stringent bail conditions imposed by the courts in the North on suspected gang members while awaiting trial for the ATM robbery.

When there was a spate of these crimes, from 2013 to 2016, gardai said that they were very concerned about the nature of the ATM attacks after a court in the UK heard that the safe distance from one of these blasts for anyone passing by is around 100m.

There were fears that someone could eventually be killed by one of the explosions. However, very few of the attacks have been successful for gangs here.

The most high-profile success came when a home-grown gang took almost €100,000 after blowing up a machine in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, in 2013.

On that occasion, the criminals fired shots at unarmed gardai as they fled.

As well as attempted ATM robberies the criminal is heavily involved in aggravated burglaries and prostitution.

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