Raids on Byrne crime gang expose a shady underworld of lavish lifestyles
Key members of Kinahan cartel may have gone, but youngsters are poised to take over, writes Maeve Sheehan
Flaunting cash while hiding it from the authorities requires a delicate balancing act beyond most criminals.
Liam Byrne (37) lived with his fiancee, Simoan McEnroe, and their two children in a former Guinness-built council house on Raleigh Square in Crumlin, Dublin, around the corner from his parents. Neat box hedging shields the property from passers-by and an incongruous set of electronic gates keep out intruders.
But only visitors who made it beyond the hall door got to see the lavish extent of the bling. Notable features include expensive Italian tiles, an all-weather pitch and elaborate playground, a sunken bath, a gymnasium and a fortified "man cave" with its own bar.
A local builder claimed he was paid €20,000 in four cash payments for plastering and block work at the property, according to the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB). An architect put the total cost of the renovations at €741,000.
Byrne was named in the High Court last week as the head of the Byrne organised crime group, a trusted associate of the Kinahan cartel, heavily involved in drug trafficking and violent crime, with strong international connections to fellow criminals in the UK, Spain and the Netherlands. His brother, David, was shot dead in the infamous Regency Hotel gun attack in February 2016 that unleashed the bloodletting that has claimed 18 lives. The High Court ruled that assets worth €2.7m - cars, jewellery and cash seized by CAB weeks after the shooting - were the proceeds of crime.
Those named in the proceedings included Byrne and his fiancee, Simoan; his first cousin, Liam Roe; his associate, Sean McGovern; McGovern's partner, Anita Freeman; another associate, Darren Foster and his wife, Jennifer; Byrne's sister, Maria; David Byrne's partner, Kelly Quinn, and his parents, Sadie and James Byrne.
Byrne, Roe, McGovern and Foster were "all senior members" of the crime group. The others, while not members, were involved in money laundering and had access to the proceeds of the gang's criminal activities, the High Court judgment said.
Hundreds of pages of detailed affidavits reveal how CAB agents followed the money and uncovered a sprawling criminal underworld populated by dodgy luxury car dealers and flashy fraudsters, gangsters who splashed cash on "toys for boys", €1,000 designer watches, five-star hotels and multiple flights across continents.
Pensioners Sadie and James Byrne were known to gardai long before their sons joined the ranks of the Kinahan crime empire. According to an affidavit filed by CAB, Sadie's family, the Roes, have "long links to the most serious organised crime groups in Dublin". Her husband, James, was involved in fraud and counterfeiting documents. The couple have history with CAB, settling a €208,403 tax bill in 2004. They also repaid €43,000 in social welfare overpayments in €200 weekly payments. "They are now reliant on their children's criminality for income," CAB claimed.
Their sons, Liam and David, became involved in crime from a young age, along with their cousin, Liam Roe.
Liam Byrne stepped up to the ranks of the Kinahan cartel after Christy Sr handed the baton to his sons, Daniel and Christopher, who are "close" to Byrne and attended his child's christening.
Liam Roe is Byrne's constant companion and "an integral part of the crime gang". Roe has claimed he was unemployed, relying on his father's financial support and on friends for transport. But he was once stopped at Dublin Airport with €60,000 in his check-in bag. When challenged, he produced a bank account showing a balance of €294,000.
Liam Byrne and Sean McGovern, another "trusted lieutenant", set up LS Active Car Sales in 2013. CAB found little evidence of cars being sold but believes it was used as a "slush fund" for the gang before the heat brought on them by the Regency Hotel gun attack.
Byrne recruited a "clean" car salesman, a man from a good background, who is "pleasant and plausible to deal with", CAB officers said. He was the "perfect front man" and also acted as a personal assistant to Byrne and the wider gang, organising their cars, taxing, insuring and cleaning them and booking flights for the gang members on the company laptop.
A fleet of top-of-the-range cars was at the disposal of Byrne's network. Byrne and his fiancee were spotted driving around Crumlin in a €33,500 white 15-reg sports Mercedes CLA, attracting "a lot of attention" from both locals and gardai, according to CAB. Simoan McEnroe was also insured to drive a €64,000 Range Rover and a 2014 BMW X5M SUV. Sadie Byrne drove a blue Lexus SUV worth €22,500.
The gang imported luxury cars on a "sale or return" basis from other dealers. The practice involves car traders supplying vehicles to one another, getting paid only when they are sold and taking them back if they are not. Other cars were registered in the names of "clean" citizens. High-end cars were "currency" - tens of thousands of euro worth of metal shifted around from one crime gang to other as payment or barter.
Their network included two wealthy British businessmen who were linked to a massive bet-fixing scam. Both were regular visitors to Ireland, where they stayed at the Westbury Hotel as guests of Liam Byrne and his gang, according to CAB. On one occasion, Darren Foster was stopped by gardai in Dublin driving a €300,000 white Rolls Royce. The Rolls belonged to one of the two businessmen. Foster had borrowed it to drive Liam Byrne's son to his debs.
CAB hired PWC to analyse LS Active's books. It found €13,000 in 35 separate payments made to hotels such as the Westbury, the Radisson, the Hilton and the Fitzwilliam in Dublin, and a further €39,325 spent on air travel over a period in which one car was imported.
Flights were booked through a travel agency in the city centre, which employed the sister of a man who is "a trusted person" within the gang, CAB claimed.
Liam Byrne's partner, Simoan McEnroe, would message this woman with instructions for booking and travel arrangements for various gang members. A man known as "Lee" would show up on his moped and pay for the flights in cash. He usually left without a receipt.
The Byrne network travelled widely on no apparent income, according to CAB. Liam Roe took six trips in one year to the UK, America and Spain, taking in Conor McGregor's fight with Chad Mendes in Las Vegas in July 2015. Sean McGovern took 16 flights in 2016, his partner Anita Freeman eight.
The gang shipped a dune buggy to Dublin from Puerto Banus and is suspected of purchasing a consignment of 10 electric bikes in Spain for €35,000, that could be folded to the size of a briefcase. "It is impossible for surveillance units to follow them on these bikes as they can escape through suburbia and flat complexes. It is suspected by local gardai that they are used to distribute illegal drugs," CAB said.
The gang leaned on ordinary citizens to provide clean cover for their transactions. One unemployed man in his 20s who lived with his parents was the registered owner of a €35,000 Audi that CAB linked to the Byrne gang. He later claimed to gardai he had saved up €35,000 in cash since 2008 and kept it in his bedroom. CAB officers concluded that the man "had no choice but to stick to the story". To do otherwise would leave him "vulnerable" to the gang. Another man told CAB that his wife took out a "€50,000 loan with the civil service credit union" to buy a BMW that gardai linked to Liam Byrne.
Weeks after the Regency Hotel attack, CAB raided homes and a pub linked to the crime gang, as well as four solicitors' offices, a funeral directors, a bike shop, a travel agency and an accountancy firm.
The accountant was singled out for stinging criticism by CAB. Officers found him "evasive, unprofessional and uncooperative".
There is no nameplate on his office and he is considered to be a "weak character" that criminals have found willing to work on their behalf "without question", an affidavit said.
The 29 items seized in the raids included Audis, Mercedes and BMWs; Sadie Byrne's €32,000 Rolex, which she said belonged to her dead son; her husband's €12,500 Audemars watch; a €25,500 Solitaire diamond engagement ring removed from Simoan McEnroe's finger and Liam Byrne's €9,000 Breitling watch. It was notable that none of those named in the proceedings challenged CAB. Six applied for legal aid to fight the proceeds of crime application but dropped their challenge when they were refused.
The gang is set to lose two properties to CAB; the house in Clondalkin that Liam Byrne bought from Liam Roe for significantly less than market value, and Sean McGovern's Kildare Road home in Crumlin, which he purchased for €155,000 and renovated for a further €247,000. CAB established the purchase was financed by James Mulvey, a British drug trafficker involved in shipping cocaine to Ireland. Around €150,000 was transferred from an Investec Bank account in Mauritius, in the name of the Mule State Foundation. A solicitor appointed by Mulvey to the trust later wrote off the loan, claiming McGovern was dead.
Liam Byrne's lavishly renovated home on Raleigh Square was purchased by Byrne's sister Maria. She used an €850,000 compensation award to buy several properties in the area which are occupied by family members, according to CAB. The case relating to Maria Byrne is still before the courts.
The CAB operation has squeezed out the main players in the Byrne organised crime group. Liam Byrne was tracked down by the Sunday World to a gated mansion in Birmingham, close to gangland figure Thomas 'Bomber' Kavanagh, his brother-in-law and senior player in the Kinahan cartel. Sean McGovern has moved to Dubai. But Garda sources warn that a younger group of aspiring Crumlin criminals are being groomed to fill the breach and CAB is monitoring their activities.