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Cocaine debt banker laundered gang money out of “fear”

Fiach Punch
Fiach Punch

A COCAINE-abusing Dublin banker laundered tens of thousands of euro for a criminal gang because he feared for his life, a court has heard.

Former bank official Fiach Punch was forced to open an account for laundering money as he was in fear for his life after he was assaulted due to a small cocaine debt, a court heard.

Punch (38) opened the Bank of Ireland account in late 2015 and a cheque for more than €19,000 was subsequently lodged into it.

He claimed he never saw the cheque, but simply opened the account and handed over the ATM card and pin number to another individual.

Punch claimed he was living in fear at the time after he was assaulted and his ribs were broken owing to a small cocaine debt. He had been using the drug recreationally on nights out.

He also alleged that unnamed individuals knew he had a history of working in a bank and thought they could use his knowledge of banking systems. Judge Dermot Dempsey did not accept Punch was under duress at the time and found him guilty of money laundering.

The judge ordered a probation report and adjourned sentencing to October. The defendant, of Mayeston Crescent in St Margaret’s, was found guilty before Swords District Court of lodging a cheque to Bank of Ireland in Malahide which could have been the proceeds of criminal conduct.

The incident took place on a date between November 30 and December 22, 2015.

Detective Garda Brian Pentony said a cheque in the sum of €19,175 was issued by a medical equipment company on February 23, 2015. Gda Pentony said the cheque was sent by post but never reached its destination.

The court heard the cheque was subsequently lodged into a Bank of Ireland account which had been opened by Punch in November 2015. Defence lawyer Patrick Jackson said Punch, who had no previous convictions, was a vulnerable person and was under duress when he opened the bank account.

Mr Jackson said Punch had been assaulted two weeks earlier and suffered broken ribs.

The lawyer said Punch owed a small cocaine debt and was in fear for his life when he opened the bank account.

When interviewed by gardai, Punch said an individual had travelled over from the UK and wanted him to open the account. He also provided the individual with his ATM card and pin number.

He said he never received any money for allowing his account to be used.

He also said he did not know how much the cheque was for, and accepted he thought what happened was “a bit dubious”.

The bank discovered the cheque had been altered and no money was ever paid out.

Mr Jackson said Punch previously worked at Ulster Bank but is currently on disability benefits.

He asked the judge to leave Punch without a conviction. Judge Dempsey ordered a probation report, saying Punch would need to complete voluntary work to avoid a conviction.