Tuesday 20 March 2018

Kinahan flies the globe in a bid to hide his millions

Authorities have linked up with forces abroad to target the drug lord's criminal empire, writes Maeve Sheehan

Christy Kinahan
Christy Kinahan
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

One year on from the Regency Hotel shooting, the drug trafficker Christy Kinahan has reportedly been racking up air miles like the globetrotting businessman he pretends to be. He's been photographed coming out of a hotel in Hong Kong, has reportedly "retired" to Dubai, where he now spends long stretches, and, according to another source, has visited Africa and Russia.

He's not "exploring new markets", however. Instead, police suspect, he is trying to bury his millions in obscure economies impenetrable to the authorities on his trail.

Kinahan heads a global criminal enterprise that spans drugs to guns to money laundering, valued at around €100m six years ago and possibly worth multiples of that today.

He has not only survived the heat but prospered, emerging relatively unscathed from a joint operation led by Spanish authorities against his crime gang in 2010. By then, Kinahan had been living for almost a decade in splendid exile, in a gated villa in Estepona on the Costa del Sol, with a fortune amassed from drugs and guns.

There were the dawn raids, searches, laptop seizures, and arrests of 20 people including Kinahan and his two sons, Daniel and Christopher. They all walked away scot-free.

However, Operation Shovel did reveal important intelligence on the global reach of a criminal operation hidden behind a layer of seemingly ordinary front companies.

Kinahan was linked to a €150m property portfolio, that included tourist resorts in Brazil and properties in Spain, Cyprus, South Africa and elsewhere. His collection of cars included Lamborghinis, Porsches, Ferraris and Bentleys - all of which were seized.

Companies, registered in the names of his sons included several real estate firms selling high-end apartments on the Costa del Sol, a firm importing and exporting seeds and plants, and another trading in children's toys.

An EU-funded report on organised crime, which drew heavily on Operation Shovel, revealed last year that Kinahan had set up more than 200 companies, many of them food wholesalers that shipped foodstuffs around the world - a front for smuggling.

He set up shops, bars and restaurants in Ireland, Spain and the UK for "laundering" purposes. Properties were used "as houses or warehouses in which to stock smuggled goods".

The Spanish investigation ran into the ground. Neither the Kinahans nor their criminal cohorts were prosecuted. The authorities were forced to return much of the confiscated cash and luxury cars.

According to an informed source, most expensive cars seized in a glare of publicity were returned, bank accounts were unfrozen and property was returned to Kinahan, his family and criminal associates.

Ultimately, the Spanish authorities did not have evidence. In Ireland, a court can order the confiscation of assets on the word of a chief superintendent. Not in Spain, however, where the authorities have to go further to prove their case.

In the wake of the Regency Hotel attack, and feeling the heat themselves, gardai and Spanish police have forged a fresh investigative alliance. The fruits of their shared intelligence emerged last September, with a series of dawn raids on suspected Kinahan targets in Dublin and on the Costa del Sol.

Spanish detectives seized a yacht worth €100,000 and a Bentley worth €200,000. They searched a boxing gym, called MGM, the promoters of the event in the Regency Hotel last year, and which has long been linked to Kinahan clan. They also picked up an Irishman on suspicion of murdering Gerry Hutch's nephew, Gary.

Back in Ireland, detectives searched garages, accountancy firms, offices and businesses across Dublin, and seized computers, phones and around €23,000 in cash.

Kinahan has been on the move. Senior Garda sources said the force is assisting police authorities in "a number of countries".

"We are working with a lot of countries. Some inquiries being carried out may lead to applications to freeze assets," he explained.

More holes have emerged in Kinahan's armour. Thanks to "intelligence-led" policing, gardai have made spectacular seizures in the past fortnight, starting with €37m worth of cannabis and another €3m seizure, plus guns and cash.

These seizures will barely dent Kinahan's fortune, but they will still hurt him.

Sunday Independent

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