Millionaire unaware as gang line up private jet for heroin haul
A PRIVATE jet owned by multi-millionaire businessman Jim Mansfield was impounded by the Belgian authorities yesterday following a massive heroin seizure.
A review of security at smaller airports around the country will be carried out in the wake of the sting, which involved gardai and three other police forces.
The operation, which was spearheaded by the Garda national drugs unit, resulted in recovery of the biggest heroin haul destined for distribution here.
Last night five men, three Irish and two British, were in custody here, in Belgium and the Netherlands as inquiries were carried out into the seizure of almost 50 kilos of the drug, with a potential street value of ?10m.
The jet, worth up to ?8m, was used without Mr Mansfield's knowledge by a Co Meath businessman, who had been given the craft legitimately.
The jet flew out of Weston executive airport, in West Dublin, on Tuesday morning to collect a passenger at Kortrijk-Wevelgem international airport in southern Belgium.
But gardai had been working closely with Belgian police and the passenger, who was from the Leeds-Bradford area, was arrested as he was about to board.
The heroin was found in his luggage. Police also arrested the pilot and his co-pilot.
The three appeared in a closed court session before a local magistrate yesterday afternoon and were remanded in custody to tomorrow. The two Irishmen are from Leixlip, Co Kildare, and Donabate in north Co Dublin.
In follow-up investigations, Dutch police arrested a Scottish suspect at lunchtime on Tuesday, and around teatime detectives detained a man near Weston.
Last night the man, who has an address near Navan, Co Meath, was being questioned at Clondalkin garda station and could be held without charge for a maximum of seven days under anti drug-trafficking legislation.
Gardai believe their joint operation, which had been under way for several months, has smashed a major drug smuggling route and are now investigating whether Weston has been used by drugs gangs in the past.
They are satisfied that similar small airports are being used to bring in drug shipments, because there are no permanent customs checks on passengers using those flights.
The flight crew are employed by the National Flight Centre, based at Weston. The Cessna Citation had been given by the flight centre to the businessman after his own craft had been found to be unserviceable.
Last night the Cessna's owner, Mr Mansfield, said he was shocked to discover his plane had been used in the smuggling of drugs, and said he was not even aware the craft was out of the country until notified of the garda operation.
Gardai believe the intercepted drugs were destined for the streets of west Dublin and in particular, Clondalkin, Ballyfermot and Blanchardstown.
Searches involving the national drugs unit and the Criminal Assets Bureau were carried out at eight addresses in west and north Dublin, north Kildare and Co Meath, and resulted in the seizure of around ?40,000 in cash and documentation.
The CAB had already been investigating the suspect detained here to establish the source of his wealth.
He is believed to own a number of aircraft.
Gardai said several of the 'mid-level' drug dealers arrested by detectives in Operation Marigold in west Dublin earlier this month would have been linked to the masterminds behind the intercepted shipment.
The 50kg seizure is roughly twice the amount seized by gardai here in each of the last three years. the size of the annual heroin total confiscated by gardai over the past three years.
The last major seizure was of 30 kilos of the drug in Ratoath, Co Meath, during the summer, and senior officers admitted that use of the drug had increased significantly in the past couple of years.