Sunday 17 December 2017

Links to Ireland helped mobster stay free

Ralph Riegel

JAMES 'WHITEY' Bulger was immensely proud of his Irish heritage.

In fact, it was his Irish-American connections that are believed to have helped America's Most Wanted successfully stay on the run from the FBI for 16 years.

Both Bulger's parents emigrated to Boston from Ireland and, in his late teens, he gravitated towards the Irish-American mafia.

As he became one of the most feared men in Boston, Bulger struck up close links with republican groups in the US. In the 1970s and '80s, he is understood to have visited Dublin and Belfast a number of times.

When he finally went on the run in 1995, it was these contacts that enabled Bulger to access safe houses, new identities and, most crucially of all, new passports.

At one time, US police feared Bulger (81) had a new identity provided specially for him by the IRA.

Even when he was on the run and regularly featured on the FBI's Most Wanted list, Bulger kept his Irish connections alive.

Police are convinced he was in Ireland for some time in 2002 -- and may have spent several weeks touring the country. It is also suspected he spent time in Ireland immediately after he fled the US in the late 1990s.

So strong are those links that US police now want to determine if the mobster hid 13 prized paintings -- stolen in Boston in 1990 -- in Ireland pending their sale on the black market. The paintings include a Rembrandt, a Vermeer, five Degas drawings and a Manet portrait.

The FBI, via Interpol, had regularly been in contact with gardai over suspicions Bulger may have spent some time holidaying in Ireland. It is still suspected that, at one time, he may have been travelling on an Irish passport.

Four years ago, US police examined reports that Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig (60), were living in Cork and Kerry. However, those reports were discounted on the basis of an 18-second video taken by a tourist in Sicily in 2007, which showed a couple that looked like Bulger and Greig.

That information prompted an investigation which ultimately proved the couple were not, in fact, Bulger and Greig.

Irish Independent

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