By Eoin English and Cormac O’Keeffe
Gardaí have disrupted a significant international drug smuggling network after raiding a sophisticated cocaine lab in West Cork.
The gang was being monitored locally by Cork drug units, nationally by the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and Customs, and internationally by the EU’s Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre.
Gardaí discovered a quantity of cocaine and chemicals used to extract cocaine from fabric when they entered an Airbnb-rented two-storey house in the Dromleigh area of Bantry on Sunday.
The street value of the seizure is still being assessed but it is expected to be well in excess of €100,000, with one source suggesting it could be as high as €1m.
Gardaí have also conducted a number of follow-up searches of properties in Cork and Dublin, with the postal network and possible links to South America also being explored.
Gardaí from the West Cork Divisional Drugs Unit and Cork City Drugs Unit, backed by the Armed Support Unit and detectives, swooped on the house at around 10pm on Sunday following an intelligence-led operation which, it is believed, was mounted after two suspects were identified after landing at Kerry Airport on board a flight from Spain.
It is understood gardaí thought the gang were going to import drugs by boat or other vessels from South America but found they were using a different method.
The gang is suspected of sailing from South America to Ireland to import significant quantities of drugs.
When gardaí entered the Bantry home, they discovered what one senior garda described as an extensive and sophisticated lab set-up.
Gardaí believe the house had been kitted out to extract cocaine which had been impregnated into fabric which was being delivered to the house packed in boxes. Such operations involve the clothing being impregnated with cocaine, in liquid form, in the country of origin.
The clothing is then allowed to dry with the water evaporating, leaving pure cocaine embedded in the fabric. The clothes can then be transported, either by being worn, packed in luggage, or through the postal service.
When the fabric reaches its destination, it is soaked in a chemical solution, which allows the cocaine to be extracted, and then crystallise into solid form, for distribution or sale.
Gardaí found a quantity of suspected cocaine at the property in liquid, in crystal and in powder form.They are still trying to assess the quantity of drugs discovered, but it is expected to be worth several hundred thousand euro.
They arrested four people at the scene. They include a father and son, aged 51 and 26, from the Deansrath area of Clondalkin, west Dublin.
A third man, aged 36, has an address in Baldoyle, north Dublin. A woman, aged 25, with an address in Kinsale, was also arrested.
Gardaí took away a large number of plastic containers, plastic boxes, weighing scales, three one-litre containers of a chemical used to extract cocaine, and face masks and gloves.The first such cocaine lab of its kind in Ireland was discovered during a raid on a house in Kilkenny in 2003.Similar
While similar operations have been discovered over the years by those involved in the smuggling and distribution of other illicit drugs, including MDMA. However, a garda source said this is the first time such a cocaine lab operation has been found in the Cork area.He described it as a significant blow to the distribution network of those involved in cocaine smuggling into Ireland.
He said garda investigations are ongoing and that they are liaising with customs, and availing of their expertise and equipment.