Jonathan Harding (48) became a focus of Garda attention after dozens of trips to Spain by cartel gang members
A TRUSTED gang "adherent" known as ‘Rocket Man’ who laundered hundreds of thousands of euro for the Kinahan cartel has been jailed for five years and three months by the Special Criminal Court, while his partner and co-accused has walked from court with a suspended sentence.
Jonathan Harding, of Kerdiff Avenue, Naas, Co Kildare, was caught after he was spotted by gardaí leaving an arsenal of firearms and ammunition that could "arm a small country".
Sources told Independent.ie that he became a focus of major Garda attention after dozens of trips were made to Spain’s so-called ‘Costa Del Crime’ by cartel gang members.
Harding (48) was sentenced Tuesday morning for laundering a total of over €342,000 for what Mr Justice Tony Hunt called a "serious criminal organisation" of which Harding was a "trusted adherent" from 2012 to 2016.
Harding previously pleaded guilty at the Special Criminal Court to possessing nine revolvers, four pistols, a sub-machine gun, an assault rifle and various ammunition magazines.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with one year suspended in January 2018 for this offence.
Convicted drug dealer Harding was a close pal of cartel kingpin Liam Byrne and has been heavily involved in organised crime for two decades.
He escaped charges after he was arrested when officers seized two loaded rocket launchers in one of their first operations against the cartel in May 2010.
The disposable launchers, which were seized along with a cocaine shipment in a raid by gardaí, can be fired from the shoulder and are discarded after being used only once.
The weapons had been stored by the cartel in a rented shed located at the rear of a block of five industrial units on the Clane Road, at Longtown, Straffan, Co Kildare.
Armed officers from the Garda’s organised crime unit raided the premises and found the rockets – one of which was identified as a Russian-made RPG-22 – an AK assault rifle and nine kilos of cocaine with a street value of between €700,000 and €800,000 hidden inside barrels.
The raid was part of Operation Lamp, which was targeting members of the Kinahan cartel at that time.
In December 2004, Harding was jailed for six years after being caught with almost €800,000 worth of heroin and cannabis.
On Tuesday at the Special Criminal Court, Mr Justice Hunt mitigated the sentences downwards for Harding's early plea of guilty to the five offences under the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act 2010.
Forensic analysis of accounts linked to Harding's partner Carol Davis (45) of Clonmacnoise Road, Crumlin, Dublin 22, had also revealed that over €44,000 was spent on travel while €40,000 was spent on a mobile home, the non-jury court heard.
An analysis of accounts linked to Harding showed that €52,000 was spent on travel alone, but that gardaí had no ability to say who took the flights concerned.
Ms Davis, who was not aware of Harding using her accounts, pleaded guilty to three offences under the same act and received a three-year suspended sentence on all offences.
Detective Sergeant Tom Anderson, of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, previously told Fiona Murphy SC, prosecuting, that on January 24, 2017, on foot of a warrant targeting organised crime, gardaí went to a business premises in Greenogue, Rathcoole, Dublin 24.
Det-Sgt Anderson said two men were observed leaving the premises while the search was about to be executed.
The witness said that 15 firearms, including a Kalashnikov, a sub-machine gun, and a semi-automatic weapon, were found alongside a device to manufacture vehicle registrations, while a stolen forklift and a mobile tracking device were also found.
Mr Justice Tony Hunt said money-laundering services as provided by the couple are essential for organised crime groups.