'He lived a lavish lifestyle and thought he was untouchable'
Philip Baron lived the life of a luxury property developer at his plush home at Bawnogues in Straffan, north Co Kildare. He mixed freely in top business and social circles although he never had any taxable earnings.
A regular visitor to the exclusive K Club, which is less than a mile from his home, he played golf there and used the comfortable surroundings to meet some of his visiting accomplices to plan their drug shipments.
Baron's respectable "front" and his wide network of contacts, allied to his extensive knowledge of the import business, meant he was invaluable to organised crime gang leaders here, who were trying to make their names and their millions on the international drugs market.
His close friendship with top associates of Christy Kinahan meant he had access to social functions in Spain where he mingled and developed his range of acquaintances.
Baron travelled extensively to meet his contacts – including some of the Colombian drug cartels.
Back in Ireland he was also busy developing working relationships with local drug players, including members of one of the biggest drug importing gangs in the State based in south and west Dublin.
Baron had a stormy relationship with this gang and at one stage was threatened by a "heavy", who had been sent by the gang leader to demand money because of a financial dispute between the two sides.
He used his vast financial resources to splash out on a €90,000 Bentley car, bought a €200,000 solitaire ring for his wife, Elaine, enrolled two children in boarding schools and gave them horses as presents.
Baron is still under investigation here but the British operation, codenamed Beath and involving assistance from the gardai, finally smashed his international empire.
Following his arrest in Straffan, he fought his extradition to the UK for 18 months. According to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), Baron and his associates ran a smuggling operation that was one of the top 10 biggest ever uncovered in the UK.
They used ingenious methods including hiding drugs in pieces of machinery and in the back of a safe to smuggle them into the UK. Baron and the other dealers used "virtual offices", paying for the services of legitimate companies to hide what they were doing.
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said that the gardai had worked very closely with SOCA and it was through partnerships with other agencies that they could successfully tackle international gangs.
Steve Baldwin, head of investigations in SOCA, said: "There's no doubt Baron and his associates were operating at the top end of organised crime. He lived a lavish lifestyle abroad, portraying himself as a legitimate businessman, while orchestrating the importation of huge amounts of drugs.
"Baron thought he was untouchable but we were able to completely dismantle the crime groups linked to him."