NewsCrime Desk

Graham ‘The Wig’ Whelan hauled in as net closes on Kinahan operation

Graham Whelan
Graham Whelan

THIS is the elusive gang boss, Graham ‘the Wig’ Whelan, who was arrested by gardaí on a seven-year-old warrant this week as part of an ongoing operation targeting the Kinahan Cartel.

Convicted cocaine dealer Whelan (34), was lifted by officers from Dublin’s Sundrive Road Garda Station on Wednesday during a rare trip home to the capital.

Crumlin-born Whelan, who is regarded as one of the most senior members of the Kinahan gang, left Ireland a number of years ago because of fears he would be targeted by new anti-gangland laws.

The slippery gangster – who was heavily involved in the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud – is now based in Birmingham and has avoided being quizzed or arrested for any offence in years.

But this week it appeared Whelan’s luck had run out when gardaí on patrol spotted him walking through Crumlin and immediately took him into custody on a warrant relating to driving without insurance.

True to his slippery reputation, Whelan spent less than 48 hours in Mountjoy Prison before bringing a successful court action to quash a three-month sentence.

On Thursday, lawyers for the Wig moved to secure a writ of Habeas Corpus in the High Court, declaring his incarceration to be illegal.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Whelan was part of a gang of young criminals – which included ‘Fat’ Freddie Thompson, Brian Rattigan, Liam Byrne and Declan Gavin – who made a fortune selling cocaine in Dublin.

Like his contemporaries, Whelan gradually moved up the organised-crime food chain, but left the country after suspecting he was about to be targeted by Gardaí.

Officers tried to prosecute Whelan for directing a criminal organisation under new anti-gangland legislation five years ago, but were refused permission by the DPP.

However, they remain convinced that he is a key player in the cartel and is part of the top chain of command.

He is a close associate of Thomas ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh and his wife Joanne Byrne – a sister of murdered David Byrne, who was gunned down in the Regency Hotel.

Gardaí believe he regularly slips in and out of the country, although he was spotted when he returned for his friend David Byrne’s funeral last February.

Whelan played a leading role in the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud that kicked off in 2000. He was one of those jailed following the infamous Garda raid on the Holiday Inn Hotel in the south inner city that pitted Brian Rattigan against ‘Fat’ Freddie Thompson and sparked a war which resulted in 17 murders.

At the time, Whelan’s pal Declan Gavin was accused of being a Garda mole and was eventually murdered by Rattigan.

Whelan remained loyal to Thompson and served six years in prison for possession of £1.25million of ecstasy tablets and cocaine from the Holiday Inn drugs bust.

In court, Sergeant Seamus Boland of Pearse Street Garda Station said Whelan told gardaí he could do “10 years standing on his head”.

After his release he shot up the ranks of the gang headed up by Thompson and his cousin Byrne and took over the running of the drugs trade in south Dublin.

Since moving to the U.K., Gardaí believe he has been supervising the importation of cocaine, heroin and cannabis between Marbella, Liverpool, London, Birmingham and into Dublin,  where another former associate, who is currently facing robbery charges, organised the distribution.

He is known for his loyalty and his ability to say nothing on arrest. He refused to answer any questions when he was held for questioning over the murder of hitman Gary Bryan in 2007, but never charged.

Whelan’s return to Dublin on the same week that CAB launched a major offensive against the cartel has raised eyebrows among Gardaí and comes as proof that the constant pressure on the mob is having an effect.

Joanne Byrne and her husband ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh are believed to be the key targets of the Bureau, along with her extended family, who are based in Raleigh Square.

The couple left Crumlin a decade ago and settled in the wealthy Birmingham suburb of Tamworth, where they live in a large house complete with their own outdoor bar and hot tub.

This week their associates in Dublin were left reeling after a series of busts saw the seizure of 46 luxury vehicles worth over €1m and co-ordinated raids on 20 premises including garages, a beauty salon, homes and storage units.

One North Dublin garage with links to a suspected tiger kidnapper was raided – the inner-city criminal is believed to have directly purchased cars from Bomber for years.

It is understood that Gardaí raided a gym – partly run by a convicted crack cocaine dealer – which also has links with the exiled businessman.

The ferocity of the Hutch-Kinahan feud has led to the first major offensive against the gang in years. The clampdown includes a vast investigation into the mob’s assets, business interests and money trails.

‘Bomber’ is understood to also associate with exiled car dealer Lee Cullen, a one-time friend of the late model Katy French and the Mansfield family.

Cullen has had links with the Kinahan mob for years and it is understood that he was storing the missing drug loot which cost enforcer Gerard ‘Hatchet’ Kavanagh and his brother Paul their lives. The money was allegedly stashed at Jim Mansfield Snr’s Citywest mansion when it disappeared.

A suitcase containing up to €500,000 in cash belonging to drug dealer Christopher ‘Git’ Russell was in an outhouse at Tasaggart House when it vanished.

Cullen, a friend of the Mansfield family, had used the grounds of the vast mansion to store the cash for Russell. He claimed he had no idea where it had gone when ‘Hatchet’ came to collect it.

A number of underworld investigations were launched into the missing money – including one by the cartel themselves. Russell continued to insist he had paid up, while ‘Hatchet’ claimed he never got the loot.

Cullen, who settled a bill with the CAB for €2m, ended being hospitalised and receiving psychiatric help. When he was released from hospital he was collected by Paul Rice and moved to Birmingham, where he has been based ever since and where he is regularly spotted with ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh.

'Fat' Freddie Thompson and Thomas 'Bomber' Kavanagh

Kavanagh was convicted of armed robbery in the early 1990s and was one of the first major targets of the CAB after it was set up in 1996.

In July of 1998 he and heroin kingpin George ‘the Penguin’ Mitchell were named in court when the CAB got High Court judgements against them. Mitchell, who was at the time being held in a Dutch jail, was ordered to pay up €130,000 and in a separate judgement Kavanagh was told to pay similar.

In court, he claimed that his home on Knocknarea Road in Drimnagh was his only asset and he eventually had to hand it over to the Bureau, but Bomber had his sights set higher than Dublin at that stage and vowed to move his family-run business into the big league.

As the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud got underway, Bomber and Joanne moved to Birmingham. In 2005 they bought their first house in the UK, but quickly upgraded to their current pad – a €1m mansion.

When it comes to splashing the cash Bomber and Joanne are in a league of their own. Sources say that whenever they return to Ireland, Bomber travels in top-of-the-range vehicles, but never drives himself.

He is so important that top dog Liam Byrne became his chauffeur to make sure that he remains in the lifestyle he has become accustomed to.

Nicola Tallant & Patrick O'Connell