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Notorious provo couple clean up on black market with rise in illegal cigarettes

Crime DeskBy Alan Sherry
Investigator in black jacket buys smokes in carpark
Investigator in black jacket buys smokes in carpark

THIS is the Provo couple who Gardaí believe will be big winners in the recent budget.

Leonard ‘Bap’ Hardy and his wife Donna Maguire, from Dundalk, Co. Louth, made international headlines during the Troubles after they were jailed for their roles in a planned IRA bomb attack in Germany.

Leonard 'Bap' Hardy

However, Gardaí believe the pair have put their terror days behind them and become two of the biggest players in Ireland’s illicit cigarette trade.

Donna Maguire

The counterfeit trade is estimated to be worth somewhere between €250m and €500m in the Republic every year.

And according to some experts, the recent 50c increase on a pack of cigarettes in this year’s budget will likely push more people towards the black market.

Mum-of-three Maguire (48), was once described as Europe’s most-dangerous woman because of her leading role in the paramilitary group’s bombing campaign across Europe.

Sources have claimed that Maguire and Hardy are now heavily involved in importing counterfeit cigarettes into Ireland from Asia, via Europe.

This week, the Sunday World witnessed first-hand how that market is thriving as an undercover team bought cigarettes from four separate sellers, in just two hours, in one neighbourhood.

Smokes bought by undercover journalist

These photographs show how the illicit trade has moved into ‘legitimate’ grocery shops and ordinary suburban housing estates.

Undercover buyers can be seen purchasing cigarettes off a network of dealers operating in shops and estates in south-west Dublin in broad daylight.

An undercover team, who work for cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris, carried out 14 such operations across Ireland in the past year and never encountered any difficulty buying the cigarettes.

The market has also evolved from street sellers to independent shops being used to distribute the cigarettes.

Undercover operator buys smokes

Of the four people pictured selling to the undercover team this week, two were Eastern Europeans who met investigators by appointment in a car park in Clondalkin village, a third man met them at a garage, while the cigarettes were also available behind the counter at the Lealand Store on Lealand Road.

Gardaí believe that a number of former Provos play a key role in the illegal cigarette trade in Ireland – including associates of Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy.

Hardy and Maguire are also believed to be central figures in a smuggling ring.

In December 2014, they were arrested in Spain and accused of being central figures in a £10m international smuggling and property fraud. The pair were later released on bail and the case remains open.

Hardy, originally from Belfast, was sentenced to six years in Germany in 2006 for his role in a failed IRA bomb attack on a British army base in the country in 1989. He didn’t have to serve the sentence under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Maguire, originally from Newry, was sentenced to nine years in Germany in 1995 for attempted murder and explosive offences. She was dubbed the ‘Angel of Death’ by newspapers during her time in prison.

Months before his Spanish arrest, Hardy was also fined €10,000 in Dublin Circuit Court for tax irregularities. He subsequently made a settlement with the Criminal Assets Bureau for just under €500,000.

Investigator in black jacket buys in carpark 

Another big operation centres on a family in Sean McDermott Street, Dublin, who supply most of the north inner city. A businessman based in Louth, along with a Tyrone native who was previously alleged to be on the Provisional IRA army council, are also on the radar of customs and Gardaí.

There is also organised Eastern European involvement in the trade here.

Speaking to the Sunday World, former Garda Chief Superintendent at Security and Intelligence Kevin Donohoe, said undercover purchasers have had no problems finding the cigarettes.

 “We buy illegal cigarettes from the street, in pubs, sometimes in independent shops. They’re also advertised online. We haven’t failed to buy cigarettes anywhere. From Dungloe to Dingle and Waterford to Gort. They’re pretty much everywhere,” he said.

There are three types of cigarette available. The first is contraband purchased legally in another country at a much lower cost than Ireland. It is brought in here and sold for a higher price without tax being paid.

The second type are counterfeit cigarettes purporting to be a named brand, but actually produced by criminals.

The third type – which accounts for around 70 per cent of the market– are called illicit whites, which are cigarettes only made for the black market.

Eastern European cigarette seller

They usually have their own brand name, like Black Mount, Gold Mount and American Legend.  They cost around 20c a packet to make, but can be sold in Ireland for around €4 a pack.

Donohoe said that while people may be happy at getting a cheap deal, they’re also funding organised crime.

“Illicit whites are not being brought in by small operators stocking up on cheap cigarettes abroad – they are coming in containers.

“They land them in Dublin port in batches of five or 10 million and then have a network to distribute them around the country. You’re talking about organised crime.”

U.S. authorities recently stated that the illegal cigarette trade was the funding of choice for international terrorists.

“Individual cells can engage in the trade without having to go anywhere else and can be self-funding from that. The U.S. Department of State highlighted Ireland as one of the areas of concern,” said Donohoe.

“People buying these are contributing to organised crime. We’ve seen the number of deaths in Ireland over the last 12 months, including the likes of Noel Duggan, who made his money in illegal cigarettes.

“Organised criminals are involved because it’s so lucrative, but people buying them can sleep at night because they feel far removed. If they bought a couple of packets in west Cork they won’t make the connection with someone being shot in north inner city Dublin. People will justify anything.”