A man suspected of heading a vast international drugs, guns and money laundering empire was arrested during raids in Ireland, Britain and mainland Europe today.
Christy Kinahan, dubbed the “Irish Godfather”, was held with his two sons when dozens of armed police descended on their €6m mansion in Malaga, Spain.
The 53-year-old Irish-born British passport holder is alleged to be the kingpin of a global crime conspiracy which traded in drugs, guns and laundered hundreds of millions of euro in dirty cash.
Sources said Kinahan was one of the top targets for international crime-fighting agencies, including the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), the Security Services, Europol and An Garda Síochana.
More than 750 police officers were involved in the raids co-ordinated by police in Dublin, London and Malaga.
The Kinahans were among 20 people, including four Spanish lawyers, held by Spanish National Police during raids at properties on the Costa del Sol, an area notorious for its links to crime.
Another man arrested was Irishman John Cunningham, who was previously convicted in connection with the 1986 kidnap of heiress Jennifer Guinness in Ireland.
In Britain, around 230 officers arrested nine men and two women as they searched business and residential premises in London, the Thames Valley, Kent and the West Midlands.
One man aged in his 20s was arrested in Dublin and questioned by officers from the Garda National Drugs Unit as 17 homes and businesses were raided across the city and neighbouring Co Meath.
Officers also searched properties in Belgium, Cyprus and Brazil.
The raids follow two years of preparation, including surveillance and monitoring of the gang’s finances, and it is believed the case may develop into a massive fraud inquiry linked to money-laundering.
Kinahan, who has links to London, Dublin and the West Midlands, last surfaced in May 2008 when he was arrested by the Belgian federal police force.
Wanted in several European states as well as by UK Revenue and Customs in connection with suspected money-laundering, he has lived in mainland Europe since 2003, frustrating efforts to put him on trial.
Investigators have linked him to gangs of Turkish drug dealers specialising in heroin, cannabis growers in Morocco and ecstasy and amphetamine drug laboratories in Holland.
Kinahan is also believed to have bankrolled an alleged bet-to-lose horse-racing scam in 2004. Top jockey Kieren Fallon and others were acquitted when a trial collapsed at the Old Bailey three years later.
UK officials said European authorities had dealt a major blow to a prolific gangland operation, considered to be the number one crime gang operating out of Spain.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy said there is “no hiding place” for drug smugglers.
He said: “This is an extensive and focused investigation into organised criminal activity, targeting drug trafficking, money-laundering and firearms crime.”
Trevor Pearce, Soca executive director, said: “The scale of this joint operation by law enforcement agencies from so many countries is an indication of how prolific we think this network was.
“Today’s arrests will have dealt a major blow to an organised criminal business suspected of supplying drugs and guns to gangs in cities across the UK and Europe.
“It highlights Soca’s role in co-ordinating complex investigations into organised crime, which always has an international dimension.
“We also believe this network has been offering a global investment service, ploughing hundreds of millions of pounds of dirty cash into offshore accounts, companies, and property on behalf of criminals. A financial investigation is already under way.”
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the massive police operation showed the determination to crack down on international gangs.
“I want to commend the work of An Garda Síochana and their colleagues in Spain, the United Kingdom and Belgium for the carefully planned operation against organised crime which has culminated in a wide range of law enforcement actions in a number of countries today,” the minister said.
“The fact is that no border will protect those involved in organised crime. Today’s events are evidence of the determination of those involved in law enforcement, fully supported by their governments, to take international gangs straight on.”