Observers of John Gilligan will watch for his signature mock wiping of the brow when he walks free after 16 years in prison.
He has performed this little bit of theatre throughout his key moments in court, most famously in Mar 2001 when he was cleared of the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin in Jun 1996.
Those present in the Special Criminal Court on that day remember the gesture to investigating detectives after the three judges acquitted him, despite saying they had grave suspicions about his involvement.
Gilligan did the same in 2002 after being found guilty of threatening two prison officers, then again in 2003, and in 2011, when he was found guilty of possessing a mobile phone in his cell.
“He’s a very arrogant man,” said a senior officer who has had close involvement with the notorious drug baron. “I haven’t come across anyone as supremely arrogant as him.”
During those court appearances, Gilligan spent most of his time staring absently-mindedly at ceilings, all part of a persona of untouchability he tried to build up, and a twisted two-fingers to the loved ones of Ms Guerin, including her husband Graham Turley and her brother Jimmy Guerin.
But on the same day he was spared a life sentence for Ms Guerin’s murder, he was landed with a massive 28-year jail term for nine drug charges relating to the importation of a colossal quantity of cannabis — 21 tonnes — during 1994 and 1996. The consignments were worth €55m, amassing Gilligan a profit of around €20m. His sentence was subsequently reduced to 20 years on appeal.
Tomorrow, after serving 16 years in custody since his extradition from England in 1997, he will be a free man. While the media circus will gather, it is not even clear if Gilligan will be in Portlaoise, amid reports prison bosses might ferry him to another jail to avoid any incidents following his released.
They will be mindful of the events after the release in Aug 2009 of two killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe — Pearse McAuley and Kevin Walsh — from Castlerea Prison.
Where Gilligan will go and what will he do are topics of the minds of many. “He hasn’t got much money to live on,” said a Garda source. “There are no other properties or monies in this country that we have identified.”
Three west Dublin family properties — two in Lucan and one in Corduff — have already been sold or are in the process of being sold.
A stay has been put on his wife Geraldine’s bungalow in Jessbrook, adjacent to the sprawling, rundown, equestrian centre, which is now up for sale. The appeal on the house is due to be heard in the Supreme Court in late 2014 or early 2015, although the establishment of a Court of Criminal Appeal could speed that up.
Gilligan started buying up the lands around Jessbrook in the late 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1994, during the height of his empire, that he began buying up a total of 90 acres. Between the land purchases and development of the centre, stables and apartments, he spent a total of €1.5m between 1994 and 1996.
Given his fondness for the courts, the Criminal Assets Bureau is bracing itself for fresh proceedings from the Ballyfermot man to halt the sale of Jessbrook.
“There has been no communication from him, but, given his pattern, we are preparing ourselves for High Court proceedings to halt the sale,” said a source.
Garda sources accept there have been plenty of anecdotal stories of massive hauls of cash being buried across Ireland, including underground in Jessbrook, but sources believe they are simply that — stories.
Gilligan could travel to Spain or the Netherlands, where it is also rumoured he has multi-million bank accounts and properties.
“If he has, they are in the hands of third parties, holding funds for him, but after all this time it seems a bit remote,” said one source.
It is believed most of this money would have vanished or been spent by now.
A source said the properties and accounts were not in Gilligan’s name as CAB here had done a thorough trawl both here and abroad.
Even Geraldine’s pub, The Judge’s Chambers in Alicante, may be in doubt, with some dispute over its ownership. Garda sources said the Spanish authorities had investigated financial accounts linked to the pub.
“There is no huge wealth out there. He has no properties abroad as far as we can determine,” said a source. And he said that if they get information Gilligan has such property they will go after it, “actively”.
As for re-establishing links with his old gang lieutenants Paul Ward, who lives in Dublin, and Peter Mitchell, in Holland, Garda sources are sceptical.
“He’s had no contact with either of them. It’s possible he’d try and hook up with them and re-establish links but I’m not sure how that would work. The world has changed dramatically since his time.”
One detective who believes Gilligan doesn’t have much money at his disposal raised an eyebrow at the statement issued by his solicitor last Thursday, saying he would not give an interview even if “offered one million euro” to do so.
“It’s interesting he put a figure on it, saying he wouldn’t do it for one million euro. I’ve seen a few actors do that,” he added.
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