Operation Venetic / ENCROCHAT Development: Alleged Organised Crime Gang Leader charged with Serious Drug and Money Laundering Offences

Ciarán Shiels of Madden & Finucane is defending a man charged before Derry DJ Court with drug importation, supply and money laundering offences alleged by PSNI in Court to be a major OCG figure.

A Derry man accused of being the leader of an organised crime gang has been remanded into custody at the city’s Magistrate’s Court.

On July 30, the defendant was granted anonymity by the court because fourteen ‘threat messages’ have been delivered to him in the past by republican paramilitaries.

It is a year since he received the last one but the court was told that the threats have not been lifted.

He has been charged with conspiracy to transfer criminal property namely money, conspiracy to conceal criminal property, being concerned in the supply of Class A drug cocaine, conspiracy to possess the same Class A drug with intent to supply and conspiracy to possess Class B drug cannabis with intent to supply.

All offences are alleged to have taken place between March 25 and June 15 of this year.

The court heard that there is a ‘large amount of evidence’ connecting the defendant to serious criminality.

During searches of his addresses on July 29 police were said to have discovered a Fort Transit van in a ‘lockup’ with items found inside.

According to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) the accused was located at business premises in the city where a Land Rover and ‘personal use steroids’ were seized.

A PPS representative said a ‘wealth of material’ was found on his mobile phone.

It contains, he added, exchanges between the defendant and associates about ‘substantial sums’ of money and the importation of drugs from the Republic of Ireland and Spain.

The prosecution lawyer also said the phone contained reference to the purchase of a ‘stash van’ – a vehicle adapted to contain hidden compartments to store drugs.

He objected to bail saying the defendant ‘appears to be running an organised crime group’ and has a relevant previous conviction for which he received a suspended prison sentence.

The PPS representative said there is a risk of reoffending and of obstructing justice.

Other people linked to the same organised criminality were granted bail but the prosecution drew a distinction citing previous convictions and ‘talking about substantial quantity of drugs’.

The court was told that phone messages detailed 60 jackets which the PPS believe to be 60kg batches of cannabis.

Defence solicitor Ciaran Shiels said the offences are denied and there is ‘no forensic link’ nor ‘smoking gun’.

The case will ‘likely take years to come to trial’, he added, while referring to 1,200 arrests across Europe as part of Operation Venetic.

This operation has focused on crime groups by attacking the use of encrypted communication called Encro devices on which individual members of crime groups co-ordinate their illegal activities.

Many people are aware of the wholesale breach of the EncroChat platform which took place from March until June, Mr Shiels said.

The defence solicitor argued that the lawfulness of the operation and admissibility of material has to be tested.

His client’s antecedents are ‘very modest’ and he has nothing for dealing drugs, Mr Shiels told the court.

The defendant’s wife could provide a cash surety of £2,000 and the defence lawyer believed that with ‘very, very severe and strict conditions’ his client met the criteria for bail.

Mr Shiels added: “If he wasn’t under fairly heavy police surveillance before yesterday he will know between now and his preliminary inquiry he will be one of the most highly monitored individuals in this city.”

District Judge John Meehan said the accused has a relevant conviction on his record and the point about how long it will take to go to trial has not yet been reached.

Bail was refused and the defendant will appear before the court again on August 27.

Derry Now