FORMER 'active' IRA members who amassed multi-million-euro fortunes went on to front a huge property empire for the paramilitary group spanning at least four countries, the Irish Independent has learned.
Leaked embassy cables have revealed the "apparently respectable" entrepreneurs were used by the IRA to build up a huge continental property portfolio during the Celtic Tiger boom years.
Separately, other shadowy businessmen were suspected by gardai of opening bank accounts and registering companies in Bulgaria in a bid to create "money-laundering vehicles" for the Provisionals.
And they were suspected of teaming up with corrupt Bulgarian criminal gangs as part of a plan to launder millions on behalf of the terrorist organisation.
Gardai first became aware of the Provo-Bulgarian link when suspected IRA members invited their Bulgarian allies to Ireland.
The revelations have emerged in the 'Ireland Cables' -- a tranche of more than 1,900 US Embassy documents obtained by the Irish Independent from the whistleblowing organisation WikiLeaks.
In one dispatch, a senior garda briefed US diplomats that, during the boom years, the IRA diversified away from smuggling, robbery and racketeering and into "more sophisticated business enterprises".
The Irish Independent has learned through intelligence sources that the unnamed businessmen referred to in the cables are suspected of being formerly "active" members of the IRA. However, these people have since avoided being publicly linked to the Provisional movement, while amassing huge fortunes, particularly in the property and construction sectors.
The Irish Independent is aware of the identities of some of the key businessmen fronting the IRA's "legitimate investments" -- but cannot name them for legal reasons.
Despite remaining hugely sympathetic to the IRA, these figures stayed away from public events such as commemorations so that their links to the Provisionals would not be obvious to gardai and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The businessmen helped the Provisionals amass a multi-million-euro residential and commercial property empire by investing in portfolios in Dublin, London, Spain and Bulgaria.
And authorities here feared much of the profits were being used to fund Sinn Fein's political activities in the Republic.
Details of the extent of the Provisional portfolio were revealed by a senior garda intelligence officer during a briefing for US Embassy officials in Dublin in July 2005.
The intelligence officer is named in a 'confidential' leaked cable sent by then-US Ambassador James Kenny to the State Department in Washington.
The officer said IRA money was constantly moving and flowing from diversified sources into wide-ranging investments, the dispatch said.
The cable then detailed how gardai were pursuing the Bulgarian links to the IRA.
This aspect of the garda investigation into the IRA's foreign investments sparked a furious diplomatic row involving the Bulgarian Ambassador to Ireland.
Bisserka Benisheva told US Embassy officials there was no evidence of criminal involvement by Bulgarians in the money-laundering case.
Ms Benisheva also said she wished the gardai would close off this line of inquiry publicly and insisted the damage to Bulgaria's reputation had been "unfair".
However, the intelligence officer said gardai would continue to pursue a possible Bulgarian connection, based on "pre-existing evidence of IRA-Sinn Fein-Bulgarian links".
According to the cable, the Bulgarian government had also kept the authorities here informed of attempts to register "questionable companies in Bulgaria".
The officer also expressed concern about money from the IRA's ill-gotten funds making its way into Sinn Fein coffers in the Republic.
The irony, he explained, was that Sinn Fein was already raising substantial sums for its political activities in the Republic through legal avenues.
"He pointed out, for example, that Sinn Fein conducted at least 60 fundraisers in the South every week for its electoral war chest," Ambassador Kenny wrote.
The embassy cables underline the traditionally close ties between the police authorities here and in the US. For decades, garda management has been sending some of its brightest officers for training to the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia.
The two forces have co-operated fully in tackling the twin threats posed by national and international terrorism.
In view of the huge investment made by the US in the negotiations leading to the peace process in Northern Ireland, it is not unusual the State Department in Washington sought updates from its Dublin embassy and Belfast consulate on issues that could impact on the process.
Whenever the ambassador or officials had an opportunity to quiz garda intelligence officers or security officials from the Department of Justice, they took full advantage.
The cables also show the information they fed back to Washington was not confined to the big issues.
They were keen to find out what was happening in the investigations into the Northern Bank robbery and and the links between the Provisional movement and criminality.
But they also focused on individual cases like the murder of outed spy Denis Donaldson and the attempts to extradite former Official IRA leader Sean Garland, who was suspected of being a US currency counterfeiter.
For full details of today's Wikileaks revelations read today's Irish Independent newspaper
How the US warned Ireland could be seen as "a safe haven for terrorists"
How IRA spy Denis Donaldson was 'outed' to send signal to Provos on other informers
How Maggie Thatcher made a secret offer to train gardai in counter terrorism
THE confidential US cables from 2004-2006 confirm what we suspected: the Government had run out of patience with Sinn Fein; that not only would SF not put the IRA out of business, but that the republican movement was ambivalent about the existence of an empire of criminality.