John O’Driscoll is a man who is careful, often circumspect, when he speaks to the media.
His comments are well rehearsed and don’t stray much from the script. He is not prone to making dramatic statements.
So, when the Garda’s top gangland officer sends a clear message to the country’s criminal enemy number one, people sit up.
‘Your downfall is coming’ was his message this week to Kinahan cartel boss, Daniel Kinahan.
While he studiously declined to name Daniel Kinahan in response to repeated questions from the media specifying him, it was clear from his detailed answers he was referring to him – and other leaders in the Kinahan cartel.
The Assistant Commissioner in charge of Organised and Serious Crime said on Monday that An Garda Síochána’s plan is to dismantle the “entire” Kinahan cartel.
He said gardaí would not relent until “everyone” in the cartel is before the courts.
He was speaking as three more cartel associates were jailed for assisting in the conspiracy to murder Patsy Hutch, the brother of Hutch gang leader, Gerry “The Monk” Hutch, in February-March 2018. It followed the conviction of four people already in a plot that was foiled by the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (DOCB).
“Ultimately our aim is to dismantle the entire crime group. We have achieved some considerable success to date.” He said he was “satisfied” that they had gathered sufficient evidence to recommend charges be brought against further members of the gang.
Flanked at the media briefing by Detective Chief Superintendent Angela Willis and Detective Superintendent Dave Gallagher of the DOCB, he said 15 people involved in organised crime have received sentences of more than five years from the Special Crime Court since January 2019 and 28 have received the same in the ordinary courts.
Most of them are thought to be Kinahan associates.
“I definitely think what John O’Driscoll said is very significant,” said Stephen Breen, crime editor in the Irish Sun and co-author with Owen Conlon of The Cartel.
“John O’Driscoll has previously spoken about the garda determination to target those organisations posing a threat to life and to the State – but he never mentioned a specific group by name.
“So, for the man in charge of serious and organised crime investigations to publicly name the Kinahan group is definitely a symbolic moment, a turning point. He is letting the public know the organisation is a major target and they aim to dismantle it.”
The key leaders of the cartel include Daniel Kinahan and his brother Christopher Junior.
In 2018, under Operation Lamp, the Criminal Assets Bureau said that while Christy Kinahan Senior, a convicted drug trafficker, set up the cartel, the day-to-day operations were being “managed and controlled” by his sons, Daniel and Christopher Junior.
CAB described the Kinahan Organised Crime Group (KOCG) as an international gang trafficking drugs into Ireland, Britain and mainland Europe, with bases in Spain, Britain, Netherlands and Dubai.
In another affidavit, Detective Superintendent Seamus Boland of the DOCB said the Kinahan group was involved in the importation of vast amounts of drugs and firearms into Ireland, the UK and on mainland Europe.
The document also estimated the gang’s annual turnover at around €1billion.
“The ultimate leader of this group, the man who formed the organisation, is Christy Kinahan senior,” said Mr Breen. “He is the one who built it up into this vast criminal network across the globe.” He said Operation Shovel - which culminated in a massive search operation across Spain, Britain and Ireland in May 2010 aimed at smashing Christy Kinahan’s global money laundering network - is believed to have resulted in Christy Snr handing over the reins to his sons.
“Essentially the reins of the grouping were passed on from Christy to someone he could trust. Christopher Junior is not the same type of character [as Daniel], we were told: he’s quieter, more reserved. The Spanish said Daniel was responsible for the organisation, but Christopher was responsible for the money laundering side. But there’s no question Daniel is at the very top of that tree.” Early in 2017, Daniel and Christopher joined their dad in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
CAB told the High Court in 2018 that the Irish branch of the KOCG was the Byrne Organised Crime Group (BOCG).
This was headed by Crumlin man Liam Byrne, brother of David Byrne, who was shot dead at the Regency Hotel attack in February 2016. This led to the Kinahan killing campaign against the Hutch crime gang.
The 16 people they murdered included close family members of the Hutch criminals, old friends and completely innocent people.
CAB described Liam Byrne as a “close and trusted associate and lieutenant” of Daniel Kinahan. Another senior member in the BOCG was Sean McGovern, described by CAB as a “trusted lieutenant” of Byrne.
Both Byrne and McGovern lived near each other in Crumlin, with their spouses, investing massively in their houses.
Daniel Kinahan is thought to have been the main target in that infamous attack at the Regency Hotel, but both he and Sean McGovern escaped harm.
CAB described Byrne and McGovern as being at the “very top tier” of the KOCG and were regularly seen “in the company of Daniel and Christopher Kinahan”.
Under Operation Lamp, which specifically targeted the wealth of the BOCG, CAB officers seized €2.7million worth of assets including four homes worth €2million, 29 vehicles (€544,115), six designer watches (€83,750), two rings (€29,970), a bank account containing €36,760 and €34,840 in cash.
Byrne was always considered to be under the command of a Drimnagh man living in Britain, considered a top director within the KOCB. He is currently in custody in the UK and awaiting trial on serious charges.
Sources said the operation against this individual has “weakened” Byrne within the overall cartel.
Of 11 people named in the CAB affidavits to the High Court as being members of the BOCG, two were described as senior members apart from Liam Byrne and McGovern. They were Liam Roe, Byrne’s cousin, from Drimnagh, who continued to be seen in recent years in the local area, and Darren Foster, from Dublin’s north inner city.
The prominence, and notoriety of the KOCG in Europe was reflected in the EU Drug Market Report 2019, published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction and Europol, the EU police agency, last November.
It named, for the first time, the Kinahan cartel and described them as “key players” in the EU drugs market.
The EU agencies expressed “grave concern” at the rise in drug gang violence in some European states and referenced the Kihanan-Hutch feud and the murders both in Ireland and Spain.
It said the top gangs were hiring hitmen and again cited the Kinahan cartel for hiring Estonian hitman Imre Arakas to kill Hutch target James ‘Mago’ Gately in April 2017, a plot foiled by the DOCB.
The report cited close linkages between a major Moroccan gang, involved in a violent feud in the Netherlands - where violence approached that of “Mexican” cartels - and one of its leaders, Naoufal Fassih.
Fassih was arrested in Dublin in 2016 in a “safe house operated by the Kinahan gang, key players in the drugs trade”, it said.
AC O’Driscoll cited the close and growing cooperation gardaí have had with various European and international police agencies in recent years, including those in Britain, Netherlands and Spain as well as with Europol.
Last March, the National Crime Agency in Britain publicly named An Garda Síochána in assisting them in securing charges in relation to the importation of firearms and drugs against an Irishman, considered a senior figure in the KOCG.
Last month, in convictions relating to the plot to murder Patsy Hutch, the Special Criminal Court named the Kinahan gang for the first time.
Mr Justice Tony Hunt accepted garda evidence that the Kinahan organised crime gang is involved in "execution-type murders" to protect its core activities, which include organised drugs and firearms offences on "an international scale".
The court further accepted that the crime gang operated "an organised hierarchical structure" with "cells and subcells" to "segregate activities and limit knowledge" among gang members. The gang also operated on directions from superiors within this hierarchy.
Last Monday, the judge again named the Kinahan OCG and highlighted its “insidious and destructive” nature and how it cynically used vulnerable individuals and treated them as "dispensable foot soldiers".
These damning comments in the courts coincided with glossly attempts by Daniel Kinahan to publicly market himself as a high-end player in the world of professional boxing, including with a Bahrain sports company set up by the King of Bahrain’s son and then by securing two box-office fights between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua.
Attempts last Monday by promoters to distance Daniel Kinahan with the fight may have damaged Daniel Kinahan’s reinvention campaign, but they have not impressed senior gardaí familiar with the man, with one source saying he “didn’t believe” his links with professional boxing had been affected.
The PR attempts to disassociate Kinahan with the fight coincided with the latest convictions of cartel associates in the Special Criminal Court, where Mr Justice Hunt again praised the quality of garda investigations.
Mr Breen estimates that these convictions bring to around 30 the number of Kinahan associates jailed.
Many are foot soldiers, and some, like Liam Brannigan and Freddie Thompson, are major scalps.
“There are senior players in there,” said Mr Breen, “but gardaí have still not got the leadership. And that’s what John O’Driscoll is talking about.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind when gardaí talk about dismantling the KOCG that it is those at the top, those who run it,” said Mr Breen.
He said if they are looking at the apex of the pyramid they are talking about Daniel Kinahan, Christy Kinahan Snr, Christy Kinahan Jnr, followed by Sean McGovern and Liam Byrne.
“That’s the core of the group, that’s the machine,” said Mr Breen, “take that out the cogs stop working.” The other senior figure in custody in Britain is already facing serious charges.
But two key questions arise: what charges can gardaí seek based on the evidence they have and how are the suspects going to be brought back home?
What criminal charges may be brought against Liam Byrne is not clear, although participating in/contributing to or directing a criminal organisation could be among them.
Similar charges could be brought against McGovern, who is reported to be living in Dubai.
Gardaí are also thought to want to question him in relation to a plot to kill Hutch target Gary Hanley in September 2017, which was foiled by the DOCB, and the murder of Noel Kirwan in December 2016.
Back in 2018, a money laundering file, outlining the case for a criminal prosecution of senior BOCG leaders was submitted by CAB to the DPP, but the director decided against a prosecution.
One of the more senior cartel figures to be jailed to date, Liam Brannigan, was among those convicted in relation to the Hanley plot.
Brannigan is a cousin of Freddie Thompson, a leading cartel figure who is serving a life sentence for the murder of Daithi Douglas in July 2016.
The High Court previously heard that Daniel Kinahan, Liam Byrne and Freddie Thompson were among the main drivers of the so-called Hutch-Kinahan feud.
Garda sources said that Daniel Kinahan, who has no criminal convictions, is wanted for questioning in relation to both the foiled Hanley plot and the hiring of Arakas to kill James ‘Mago’ Gately in April 2017.
Gardaí suspect Daniel Kinahan was the person who used an encrypted phone to maintain contact with Arakas. Quick acting by a detective in the DOCB enabled gardaí to secure photographs of messages on the phone before it was remotely wiped.
Perhaps more likely are charges under the gangland legislation, including participating in, contributing to or directing a criminal organisation.
The Criminal Justice Act 2009 defines the offences of directing a criminal organisation, which can be at any level and not just at the top, and wide-ranging offences of participating in or contributing to a criminal organisation.
The DOCB has also successfully used the offence of conspiracy, including conspiracy to commit murder, under section 71 of the Criminal Justice 2006 act.
The offences under the 2009 and 2006 act are automatically referred to the non-jury Special Criminal Court unless otherwise directed by the DPP.
AC O’Driscoll stressed the offence of contributing to a criminal organisation when he was commenting on the associates jailed on Monday, some of whom were convicted of assisting the plot by activities like purchasing or providing a mobile phone or other logistical offences for those carrying out the actual murder.
Whether he has this broad offence in mind in future charges is unclear. But he did warn the gang bosses that evidence already accepted by the courts in the successful convictions of cartel associates could be used in future prosecutions.
One of those sentenced on Monday, Patrick Burns, was convicted of directing a criminal organisation. His role as director was at the sub-cell level in the overall murder plot, again highlighting the benefits of the legislation.
It is possible gardaí envisage using these pieces of legislation to bring any charges against Christy Junior or Christy Senior.
But the unanswered question is how are gardaí going to get the leaders back from Dubai and before Mr Justice Hunt.
In Liam Byrne’s case, if he is still in Britain, the process would be easier either under the European Arrest Warrant (due to run out for Britain at the end of the year) or, failing that, under the more cumbersome Council of Europe Convention (unless Britain negotiates a speedier replacement for the EAW).
AC O’Driscoll refused to be drawn on what processes were underway to secure the return of any suspects from abroad but he did stress both he and DOCB officers have been in numerous countries, including in the Middle East, as part of their efforts.
He also said he is “satisfied” that they have gathered sufficient evidence for further charges: "It is not in our interest to give any forewarning to any particular individual of our activity — other than to warn them we are not finished until everyone involved is brought before the courts.” He said the aim is to hit the “top of the pyramid” in the Kinahan cartel: “By taking out the pillars of the crime group along the way it ultimately causes damage to that organised crime group and ultimately will bring about, we believe, the downfall of those at the top of the pyramid.” One possibility is if Dubai police have evidence to show if any one of them are in the country thanks to a fake passport or visa or are in other ways in breach of their residence.
Last November, Dubai police arrested Moroccan-born Dutch trafficker Ridouan Taghi in a luxury villa for entering the state on a false passport.
The Dubai police chief said the man had entered the country in 2016 using a Dutch passport issued under a different name.
The notices ask member states to locate and provisionally arrest a person, wanted for prosecution or to serve a sentence, pending extradition or surrender.
By January, Taghi was deported and handed over to the Dutch police.
So, if Garda authorities are in a position to request Interpol to issue such a notice and/or any of the Kinahan leaders are using bogus documentation, then that appears to be one possible avenue.
It is thought that gardaí have already used instruments such as the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008, as part of their investigations, liaise with UAE police and gather evidence.
Under this act, gardaí can, through the Department of Justice, seek the assistance of foreign jurisdictions in relation to criminal matters.
The 2008 Act sets out a wide range of provisions, including:
*enabling an Irish court to issue a document to be served on a person in another country in the context of criminal proceedings in Ireland;
*enabling members of the Garda Síochána to be present at the execution of a request in other countries The Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008 (Section 4) Order 2012 sets out schedules listing countries which have signed up to two international conventions, including the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime 2000.
The United Arab Emirates is listed under Schedule 2 of the statutory instrument as a signatory to the organised crime convention.
“A lot of work has been going on in Ireland and at an international level,” said Mr Breen. “Gardaí are being patient and determined. They are chipping away, and we don’t know the half of it and definitely international cooperation has increased.” He added: “Gardaí could look for mutual assistance from Dubai. A number of individuals have been deported from Dubai to other European countries and Interpol would have been involved. As we saw with the Tyson Fury row diplomatic channels have been used by the Government.” A senior garda said the first step is to send a file to the DPP and get charges before court.
“The only way we could seek the extradition against Daniel Kinahan is if there is a charge," the garda said, "there would be no legal standing for the request otherwise.” But this would seem to require a formal extradition agreement between Ireland and the UAE.
The Department of Foreign Affairs told the Irish Examiner: “The Department can confirm that there is no bilateral extradition agreement between Ireland and the UAE.” But the road doesn’t necessarily end there – the Netherlands did not have an extradition agreement with the UAE when Taghi was deported back to Amsterdam.
The Dubai authorities acted on the back of the Interpol Red Notice and also on the basis of Taghi’s false passport.
The Garda Liaison & Protection Section (part of Garda Security & Intelligence) houses both Interpol National Central Bureau, as well as the Europol National Unit.
It is thought officers there will have examined the Dutch operation and the possibility of Ireland doing the same, once charges are laid.
“The other option is if they set foot outside UAE, into an EU country, we would have a European Arrest Warrant out for them,” said a garda.
AC O’Driscoll would have known all of this before he spoke.
As one experienced garda said: “John O’Driscoll is confident they will get charges, and he did not sit there in front of the media and say what he did without those above him [Deputy Commissioner and Commissioner] happy that that message was going out.” The vow to dismantle the KOCG and target the “top of the pyramid” is not just a vague aim or aspiration.
AC O’Driscoll, a man with extensive experience in gangland investigations and of cautious disposition, is unlikely to publicly talk about getting “everyone” in the cartel without having the ammunition.