Leading loyalist Andre Shoukri has pleaded not guilty to charges of blackmail, intimidation and money laundering, Belfast Magistrates Court was told today.
The 28-year-old, whose address was given as Clare Heights, gave a thumbs-up to around a dozen supporters in the magistrates’ court as he appeared alongside William Boreland in the dock.
Mr Shoukri, who was dressed in a green t-shirt and casual jacket, faced one charge of blackmail, one charge of intimidation and one charge of money laundering.
Thirty-eight year old Mr Boreland faced one charge of blackmail, two charges of using a firearm or imitation firearm to cause fear and to cause an arrestable offence, one charge of intimidation and one charge of money laundering.
A detective sergeant told magistrate Bernadette Kelly that Mr Shoukri replied not guilty when the charges were put to him yesterday.
He also said Mr Boreland made no reply.
The detective sergeant said he believed he could connect both men to the charges.
Both suspects were remanded in custody to appear by video link on December 9.
Their solicitor, Philip Breen urged the media to report today's proceedings with respect for the principle of a fair trial.
He criticised the Police Service of Northern Ireland for the leaking of information in the run up to today's appearance before magistrates.
Among those allowed inside the courtroom was Mr Shoukri's brother Ihab.
Outside, around 40 loyalists, some of them hooded or wearing baseball caps and scarves to disguise their faces, gathered at the gates of the Laganside court complex.
A massive security operation was launched by the PSNI, with a dozen land rovers outside the court, police in riot gear and half a dozen officers inside the courtroom.
Bemused parents and children arrived at the Waterfront Hall across from the courts for an Irish dancing championship, only to be confronted with the heavy security operation and the loyalist mob.
As they left the court to go back into the cells, Mr Shoukri and Mr Boreland were applauded by their supporters.
They were told to ``keep your chin up'' and ``see you soon.".