Saturday 16 December 2017

'Two-way merchant' Traynor was working both sides

Gilligan gang member John Traynor, who is fighting extradition, will learn his fate this month, writes Jim Cusack

THE detective team who investigated Veronica Guerin's murder in June 1996 tried very hard to find evidence supporting their belief that John Traynor had set the journalist up for assassination. He knew she was to appear in Naas District Court on the morning she was murdered and the detectives believed he had supplied the information to Gilligan and his gang. But there was no evidence on Traynor, now 62, and claiming to be in ill health.

He had ensured he was out of contact with the gang and there was no mobile phone traffic to link him to the plot and its execution. Traynor had overturned the car he was racing around Mondello Park and was in an ambulance on his way to Naas Hospital when the murder was committed.

Gardai were well aware of Traynor long before the murder. He had come to garda attention on many occasions in respect of cheque and other forms of fraud. He had been a known money launderer for 'The General' Martin Cahill's gang before he swapped allegiances to John Gilligan's mob.

While working for Gilligan, he became involved in buying and selling cars, a common way of laundering drugs money. The people who worked with him in the business had no idea where the cash was coming from.

The detective team were also aware that Traynor had been an informant for a number of other detectives in Dublin. His information was often suspect and always self- serving -- he grassed only on criminals with whom he had no financial involvement and who were, effectively, rivals of whoever he was working for.

His role as an informant was not a deterrent to the Veronica Guerin investigators. They raided several premises he either owned or rented. A house in Blanchardstown which he ran as a brothel threw up a surprise. Gardai found a two-way mirror between two rooms, one of which was used by the prostitute with whom Traynor was in a relationship, to service her clients.

It was never established, as John Gilligan has alleged in court, that Traynor filmed the men having sex with his girlfriend in order to blackmail them. Gilligan claimed in 2007 that Traynor had blackmail material on important figures in the legal profession. The detectives never found any evidence of this and suspected that Traynor just enjoyed watching his girlfriend have sex with other men. They referred to Traynor as a "two-way merchant", a play on this and on the fact that while he was working for criminals, he was also working for gardai.

The detectives were unable to establish sufficient evidence to link Traynor to the money laundering though they came close to charging one of his associates, another fraudster, who had £10,000 delivered to him each week at a pub in Belgard. The Gilligan gang bagman and "accountant", Russell Warren, told gardai this when he turned State's evidence against his former employers. It was never fully established why so much cash went to this man but it was likely he was working with Traynor in the laundering business.

Warren told detectives that disposing of cash was a major problem for the gang by 1996. Charlie Bowden, who also turned witness against the other gang members, said he had a wardrobe full of cash and had no idea of how to dispose of it. Between 1994 and 1996, Gilligan's gang imported 20,700 kilos of cannabis, with a street value of £20m, from Amsterdam via Cork Port. During Gilligan's trial, lawyers estimated that Charlie Bowden had made between £355,000 and £800,000. Brian Meehan was found to have £620,000 in a bank account in Vienna. That and more than £5m in cash and property and other assets estimated at £6m were seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau. Assets belonging to Traynor were seized too.

In the aftermath of the Veronica Guerin murder, the gang split up and fled Ireland. Traynor travelled to Amsterdam and has remained there since. He was with Brian Meehan when Meehan was caught by Dutch police in 1997 responding to the Garda warrant for his arrest for murder. There was no warrant for Traynor and he was released.

Veronica Guerin had known Traynor for some time and treated him with caution as an underworld source. She learned of his close links to Gilligan and the drugs shortly before her death and had told him she intended naming him in connection with the drug smuggling. Traynor sought and was granted a High Court injunction restraining the Sunday Independent from naming him. It was not, as Gilligan has claimed, the main reason for the murder. That was personal business by the other gang members who wanted to prevent Veronica giving evidence against Gilligan about his assault on her. Gilligan kept the details of his Lebanese supplier to himself and if he had been jailed for the assault, the drugs supply would dry up.

Gardai believed Traynor continued in his role as a cash launderer while in Holland but kept his distance from the actual drug trading. He still had links with the rest of the gang and with other Irish criminals living abroad. He was carrying a fake driving licence in the name of Peter Mitchell, 42, another Gilligan gang member who escaped arrest, also for lack of evidence. Mitchell was arrested in Amsterdam when police raided an apartment and found 110 kilos of cocaine, two kilos of heroin, ammunition and fake passports in June last year. Mitchell was acquitted of the charges and freed last December. He had moved to Holland a year earlier after he was shot in an attempt on his life in Marbella in Spain.

After Traynor's arrest last month, in connection with his absconding from prison in Britain in 1992, police raided his apartment in Amsterdam. There they found Mitchell lounging on a sofa.

Traynor had been under surveillance by Dutch police acting on a European arrest warrant issued by Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency. He was arrested in the Amstelveen area on August 23. The Amsterdam suburb is convenient to Schipol Airport and has been favoured before by Irish criminals involved in trans-national drugs and other trade in Europe. Traynor travelled regularly and had criminal contacts in Belgium as well as Spain.

Traynor was arrested in Britain in 1991 with stolen bearer bonds with a face value of £4m. The bonds were part of the biggest mugging in history when a petty thief grabbed a briefcase from a City of London courier in May 1990 containing 300 bank bonds with a face value of £291m. The thief passed them on to a notorious south London crime gang with Irish links who murdered him a short time later.

The bonds made their way to Ireland and the largest "fence" of stolen goods, Tommy Coyle, from Drogheda who died in September 2000. Coyle was an associate of Traynor's and passed some of the bonds on to him. Traynor in turn tried to pass them at a bank in Switzerland but was arrested and extradited to Britain where he received a seven-year sentence. He was transferred to a low-security jail just a year later and absconded in 1992.

At his remand hearing in Amsterdam last week, the court heard that the British police have asked the Dutch to hand him over to serve the rest of the term plus a further nine months for unlawful escape from custody.

Traynor did not appear in court and his lawyer said he had told her he is suffering from a heart condition. A statement by Traynor was read out.

It said: "I did not return to jail after home leave. I have lived 14 years in the Netherlands. I was never registered here but my son was. I am not in good physical condition, I have heart problems."

Traynor is fighting the extradition warrant on technical grounds including a claim that a location for his arrest with the bearer bonds was not stated and that 18-year delay in bringing the warrant was too long a timeframe under Dutch law.

The Dutch public prosecutor told the court that all the requirements needed for his handover to the British authorities had been fulfilled and the documents were in order. The three-judge court will decide whether or not to extradite him within the next five weeks.

Sunday Independent

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