Former Provos dominate 10 gangs running €3m-a-week cigarette racket
Former Provisional IRA activists now control 10 organised crime gangs dominating the €3m-a-week illegal cigarette trade on both sides of the Border.
The gang leaders include a Tyrone man alleged to have been a member of the IRA's ruling army council in the past and other former leading members of the Provisional republican movement in the Border region.
They are no longer active terrorists but pay a "levy" to former associates, including those currently linked to dissident gangs, to allow them to operate freely.
The rest of the cash netted from the lucrative trade is used to fund lavish lifestyles and property investments overseas, according to gardaí.
A number of the convicted terrorists are currently under investigation by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB).
One major player, Leonard Hardy, who was arrested in Spain last year for allegedly being involved in laundering millions of euro netted from trafficking in illegal cigarettes, has already reached a settlement with the CAB.
Hardy was a member of a Provisional IRA unit, active in Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and subsequently convicted of terrorist offences. He was served with a tax bill by the bureau for more than €500,000. Hardy later reached a settlement for less than that figure and was also fined €10,000 in Dublin Circuit Court for tax irregularities.
Inquiries carried out by investigators, funded by a major cigarette manufacturing company, established that more than 70pc of illegal cigarettes smoked in Ireland are "illicit whites".
These are produced in backstreet factories in Asia for the sole purpose of smuggling into high-tax jurisdictions, such as Ireland.
According to a briefing document, prepared by a former Garda officer, Ireland is now a hub and a dropping-off point for smugglers, who then forward the shipments to the UK to maximise their profits.
A 40-foot container of cigarettes can be purchased in Asia for €300,000 and then sold in Ireland for €5m.