'Mr Clean' suspected of being behind €250m cocaine haul
A SEEMINGLY respectable businessman, with no previous links to major crime, is suspected of organising the record cocaine shipment that could be worth up to €250m.
The prime suspect, dubbed Mr Clean, only came to the notice of gardai earlier this year when they began the operation that led to the massive drugs haul.
It is the biggest inland seizure of cocaine in the State.
Detectives from the Garda National Drugs Unit recovered 440 kilos of cocaine after a 10-day undercover operation.
It has an initial street value of €30.8m but because of the high purity content could be worth up to €250m after forensic analysis has been completed.
Gardai said last night that the seizure was a severe financial blow to several major drug trafficking gangs.
They believe that the haul was funded mainly by an organised crime gang based in west Dublin, but with a network of contacts around the country and abroad
A number of other crime gangs are thought to have made smaller financial investments in the shipment, which could have netted them a small fortune if distributed on the streets.
Last night officers were trying to determine how much of the latest seizure was destined for overseas.
Detectives speculated that the size of the haul meant it was unlikely to have been aimed totally for the home market.
The seizure followed months of intelligence-led detective work that also involved the Revenue's Customs Service and several international agencies in an operation codenamed Agon.
Although the shipment was funded by crime gangs, the main suspect is a businessman without any known previous criminal links.
The cocaine arrived on a ship into Dublin port 10 days ago and was concealed in a load labelled as timber.
And yesterday morning detectives arrested a 42-year-old Nigerian man, living in Dublin, in the Tallaght area and seized a vehicle with about 50 kilos of cocaine.
In follow-up searches in west Dublin and Kildare they recovered another haul of 390 kilos in a warehouse in Blanchardstown and arrested the 31-year-old suspected organiser in the Leixlip area. Further searches were under way last night and more arrests were thought likely.
Meanwhile, inquiries were also stepped up internationally to trace the route of the cocaine into the country and establish the identity of the main's gang's contacts overseas.
The two suspects were taken to Clondalkin garda station where they were being held for questioning.
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan told a media briefing yesterday that it was a very significant day for law enforcement in this country and added that investigators had been working on the investigation for several months.
He described the two arrests as very significant in terms of the criminality in which they were suspected of being involved. Mr Callinan said the gardai and customs would be working closely with European and other international partners in a joint bid to uncover the trail of the cocaine from where it originated to Dublin.
Revenue Commissioner Liam Irwin confirmed that the haul represented the biggest seizure of cocaine on land in the State.
Gardai seized one and a half tonnes of cocaine, with a street value of €440m in July 2007 but that haul was recovered off the Cork coast.
Members of other agencies, including the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda National Fraud Bureau, have now also been drafted into the investigation as inquiries widen.
Last night Justice Minister Alan Shatter congratulated the gardai and the customs for the work leading to the seizures.
He said the seizures demonstrated the determination and resourcefulness of the two agencies in tackling the activities of the major players in the illicit drugs trade.