A SOPHISTICATED currency counterfeit operation uncovered in rural Co Laois was capable of producing millions of euro notes, gardaí suspect.
A former senior member of the Provisional IRA was among four men arrested, but gardaí believe this was a criminal enterprise and do not think dissident republicans were involved.
The Belfast-born man, who has been previously targeted by the Criminal Assets Bureau, is considered the main figure behind the operation.
The discovery of the printing operation, located on a site outside the village of Borris-in-Ossory, followed an investigation by Europol, the EU police agency, and gardaí.
The elite Emergency Response Unit moved in on the site early yesterday morning in an operation led by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation (GBFI), assisted by local gardaí.
The Garda team found two hidden underground bunkers, containing 40-foot containers housing highly specialised and expensive printing machines.
“It was a fairly elaborate operation and would have been capable of producing millions of notes,” said one source. But gardaí do not believe the plant had been in operation, and was waiting to start. No cash was found.
The GBFI looked into the containers and did not go down into them for fear of disturbing any evidence.
The Garda Technical Bureau has begun a detailed examination. A Garda spokesman said four men, aged in their 40s and 50s, were arrested “for suspected offences under the Theft and Fraud Offences Act 2001 as part of a major investigation into the counterfeiting of money”.
The main suspect is a former senior member of the Provisional IRA, who was given a lengthy sentence in Northern Ireland in the early ’80s for firearms offences.
He subsequently spent time in prison in the South. When he came out he set up a business in Dundalk, Co Louth.
The CAB hit him with a €200,000 tax bill, which he fought, and eventually lost. A garda told the court he was a very important member of the Provisional IRA in the early to mid 1990s.
In 2005, he was questioned in relation to the aggravated burglary and false imprisonment of a businessman.
A second man arrested, from Co Laois, is also a former member of the PIRA.
A massive investigation is now underway as currency counterfeiting is a highly specialised and expensive business. It involves sourcing special printing machines and paper from Europe.
While the motives of the individuals involved may be criminal, the possible involvement of dissident groups will be examined.
It is the first time a counterfeit operation has been found here since 1983, when £1.5m worth of counterfeit punts and three printing machines were found in an Official IRA-run plant in Ringsend, Dublin.
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