AN IRISH couple arrested by Spanish police in connection with a €3m cannabis haul destined for here were due to fly home yesterday.
The couple, who are from Cork, were detained by police on the Costa del Sol hours before they had planned to board a flight to Cork.
Police believe the man was coming home to arrange for a number of boats to set out from a local harbour to meet a yacht which was carrying the cannabis haul.
But the yacht was intercepted by police off the Spanish coast after it had collected the shipment in Morocco.
Last night, a major investigation involving the garda national drugs unit and the Spanish national police was stepped up following the find of 500kg of cannabis resin. The street value of the haul is around €3m as it is sold here at €6,000 a kilo.
Seven people were in police custody last night, including a wealthy Cork businessman and his 48-year-old partner. Four of the other suspects are UK nationals while the seventh is a German man.
Two of the British men were on board the yacht, which had been under surveillance for several days. The Irish-registered boat, named the 'Colin Hannah', was boarded by armed naval officers on Thursday in Spanish territorial waters.
Police believe the bulk of the shipment was destined for the Irish market, with the rest going to the UK.
The Irish man and woman and the other three were detained in follow-up searches on the Costa del Sol.
The seizure followed a lengthy investigation by the garda national unit, the Revenue and the Spanish national police, in an operation codenamed 'Ciana/Fortuna'. It was part of garda inquiries targeting an organised criminal group based in Cork.
The 57-year-old Irishman is a wealthy businessman who has been moving back and forth between Cork and Spain over the past couple of years.
He has properties in Cork and Marbella and is originally from the Grange-Douglas area of Cork, although he worked for some time in the UK.
He has shared a home in south Cork with his 48-year-old girlfriend, who was also arrested on Thursday.
He was a regular in pubs in Carrigaline, Crosshaven and Kinsale, where he formerly ran an antiques business.
In the past couple of years, the man spent a lot of time at his villa in Marbella.
He was a friend of Edward 'Judd' Scanlon, a former Jesuit student, who was jailed for 22 years in June 1999 after being convicted of having IR£35,000 worth of cocaine and ecstasy for sale or supply.
At the time, it was the heaviest sentence ever handed down by an Irish court for drugs offences.
The sentence was subsequently overturned on appeal and Scanlon died in 2006 from a suspected heart attack. He was aged 56.
The 'Colin Hannah', a 38-foot vessel, left Cork almost two years ago and had been berthed in Spain since.
It left a Moroccan port earlier this week and its movements were monitored until it entered Spanish territorial waters, when it was intercepted.
The Irishman has been a target of the garda national drugs unit and the Criminal Assets Bureau since the 1990s. The CAB seized a house belonging to him in Cork towards the end of that decade.
The woman has been his partner for several years. She is a member of a well-known Cork business family.