An Irishman missing in Colombia is feared murdered by a drugs cartel after criminals allegedly made a €150,000 ransom demand for his safe return.
There are grave concerns for the safety of 40-year-old family man James Hillis, who is missing in the South American country and has not been heard of for around a month.
Gardai are aware of reports that gruesome videos have been allegedly sent to family members of the missing father of a number of young children which were said to show him being tortured.
Senior sources have revealed that there are “massive fears” that Mr Hillis, who is from the Forth Mountain area of Wexford, has been murdered by a drugs cartel.
However, the senior sources said that gardai do not have the videos in their possession in which Mr Hillis was allegedly tortured as a ransom demand of €150,000 was made to his family.
Gardai have confirmed that they are “carrying out enquiries” with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Colombian authorities.
“We are aware of the case and providing consular assistance. It is the policy of the department not to comment on ongoing cases,” a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs told Independent.ie.
Investigations by a number of international police forces have established that Mr Hillis had “travelled voluntarily” to Colombia on an Irish passport in October.
Mr Hillis, who was known to gardai, had been based in Tenerife in recent years and it is understood that this is where his journey to the dangerous South American country began more than a month ago.
Senior sources say gardai could not confirm local reports that Mr Hillis met up with “serious criminal elements” in Colombia.
“Mr Hillis has gone missing and gardai are fearing the very worst for him,” a senior source told Independent.ie.
“Gardai are aware of certain videos but these have not been examined in any detail by officers.
“What is not in doubt is that Mr Hillis has not been in touch with his family since October and this would be highly unusual for him, which again raises another red flag in terms of his well-being.”
There has been no official confirmation yet that Mr Hillis has been murdered.
When contacted by Independent.ie, a family member said he did not wish to comment on the case.
“This matter is in the hands of the guards and I don’t want to make any comments,” the man said.
While known to gardai, Mr Hillis is not considered a major criminal but he does have a number of previous criminal convictions.
He was previously arrested and brought back to Ireland from Tenerife on foot of a European Arrest Warrant to face charges in relation to 10 counts of stealing money to the combined value of €44,000.
In April 2016, he received an 18-month suspended prison sentence at Wexford Circuit Court after he pleaded guilty to the charges.
Described as a former Christmas tree dealer, the court heard that he faced 10 counts of stealing money.
Amounts which went missing at the AIB branch in Rosslare ranged from €1,950 to €9,950.
In one case, a man lost sums of €5,500 and €8,500.
It is understood that all the money was paid back to the victims.
Mr Hillis, whose home address was Green Lakes, Forth Mountain, Co Wexford, was described last night as “a wheeler dealer type” rather than a serious organised criminal.
“At one stage he was involved in the sale of plant machinery with a Nigerian crew based in Liverpool – he was a real wheeler dealer,” the source added.
“Despite everything, there is nothing in his background to suggest he would have any kind of criminal pedigree to get involved with Colombian cartels, especially on their own patch, which is clearly very dangerous.
“This is an awful time for this man’s decent family and multiple investigations are under way.”
Independent.ie understands that Mr Hillis comes from an “extremely decent” family who have been left devastated by his sinister disappearance.
Gardai said they are unaware of any connection between Mr Hillis’s case and a Dublin man with strong links to the Kinahan organisation who was murdered by a Colombian cartel as punishment for the seizure of a shipment of cocaine.
The naked body of Ballyfermot man Joseph ‘Joe’ Moore (55), who was strangled with bubble wrap, was discovered in a river close to the ‘narco’ hotspot of Medellin in the South American country on May 2, 2017.
No one has ever been brought to justice for the gruesome murder of Moore, who Colombian authorities say was killed by ‘The Office’ cartel, which was reportedly founded as an enforcement and collections arm of slain godfather Pablo Escobar’s notorious Medellin cartel.
It is understood that Moore, who was “considered to be a ‘Mr Fix-it’ type of individual”, had been in Colombia to “smooth things over” for the Kinahan cartel.
Despite his strong links to organised crime, Moore was well regarded in his native Ballyfermot and news of his death caused major shock in the local area.
His body was repatriated home to be cremated with the aid of the Kevin Bell Trust.
Moore left Ireland for Spain around 20 years ago but continued to be involved with serious criminals.
He was considered a close associate of notorious international drugs trafficker George ‘The Penguin’ Mitchell, who is also from Ballyfermot.