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Owners of plane carrying €8.4m worth of cocaine into Longford 'shocked it was on news'

Garda drugs chief’s warning after light aircraft was used to bring in 120kg of cocaine worth €8.4m from France to Longford airstrip


The drugs were later seized in the Lough Owel area near Mullingar, Co Westmeath

The drugs were later seized in the Lough Owel area near Mullingar, Co Westmeath

The drugs were later seized in the Lough Owel area near Mullingar, Co Westmeath

Owners of private aircraft risk losing their expensive planes if they do not know who is using them and for what purpose, a senior drug enforcement officer said.

Seamus Boland, Detective Chief Superintendent of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, issued the warning after the unit seized €8.4m of cocaine smuggled on a light aircraft that flew from northern France to a private airstrip in Longford.

The plane is owned by a syndicate of eight flying enthusiasts based in Longford. Detectives believe it was leased innocently by its owners to criminal elements. The Kinahan crime cartel is suspected of being behind the cocaine trafficking run.

Mr Boland told the Sunday Independent the investigation was examining how the private aircraft came to be used for alleged drug smuggling.

“An aeroplane is a serious piece of equipment and we have seized it because we believe it is an aeroplane that was used for the purpose of drug trafficking on this particular occasion,” he said.

“The criminal justice system will take its course going forward, but perhaps this is something that people are involved in the aviation industry or associated with the ownership of airplanes need to consider.”

He said the chances were that aircraft suspected of being used for criminal activity would be seized and be tied up in court proceedings. “It is a court that will decide at the end of the day whether a plane should be returned or forfeited to the state,” he said.

A co-owner of the aircraft told the Sunday Independent yesterday: “We were shocked to see our plane on the news and be contacted by gardaí. There are eight of us who own in our group; we are a flying enthusiasts’ group operating out of Abbeyshrule in Longford.

“Hopefully, we get it back in due course. There is an online booking system. We just use it for pleasure flying. It is a matter for the gardaí now how it got into the hands of criminals.”

The Cessna aircraft left Abbeyshrule Aerodrome last Wednesday and flew to northern France. Detectives tracked the aircraft as it left Dieppe to return to Abbeyshrule on Thursday.

Undercover gardaí watched as the 120kg of drugs — packed in six holdall bags and a suitcase — were moved from the aircraft into a single vehicle, which was then driven away with another car in convoy at about 5.30pm.

Gardai intercepted the vehicles on back roads in the Lough Owel area near Mullingar, Co Westmeath. An Irish man and a Polish man suspected of being the pilot are being questioned this weekend.

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A third man, a businessman before the courts on serious charges, is suspected of playing a “significant behind-the-scenes” role in the cocaine smuggling plot.

The light aircraft is the second to be seized in connection with suspected drug smuggling in Ireland this year. A private plane that landed at Waterford Airport in March was seized by gardaí in connection with a suspected drug smuggling drop in the UK.

Mr Boland said organised crime gangs “exploit legitimate industry”, which results in innocent people getting caught up in investigations.

“What we have here is a landing strip, a route into the country and there is always a danger that organised crime gangs will exploit it,” he said. “We would ask people within the industry if they have suspicions to contact An Garda Síochána confidentially.”

He declined to comment directly on the Kinahan cartels’ alleged involvement but said any organisation that can access 120kg of cocaine, and source a plane to import it into another country, is a group that is “well-establish in transnational organised crime”.

He said he expected more people would be arrested. Detectives are liaising with their counterparts in France and further afield to track the source of the drugs, he said. “The investigation will identify all those who were involved in this criminal activity.”

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