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'Crime conspiracy' Dublin socialite Fran Fennell described as 'controlling force' in drugs operation, court hears

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Fran Fennell

Fran Fennell

Fran Fennell

A Dublin socialite has been described as the “controlling force” behind an international drug trafficking and money laundering operation.

Francis Fennell (31) was involved in “every facet” of a conspiracy to import drugs into Australia and New Zealand and send to proceeds back to Ireland, gardai alleged.

Dublin District Court heard couriers were used to smuggle high-purity cocaine on flights, with the proceeds either strapped to them when they returned, or sent by money transfer to Ireland.

Mr Fennell was granted bail despite garda objections, with a €20,000 surety required before he is released.

The accused, with an address at Balcurris Gardens in Ballymun is charged with conspiring with others to bring the proceeds of criminal conduct into the state, at various locations between May 22, 2012 and June 1, 2016.

Detective Sergeant Ronan McMorrow of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau said the accused was arrested at the arrivals hall at Dublin Airport’s Terminal 1 at 5.35pm yesterday.

He was brought to Ballymun Garda Station, where he made no reply to the charge after caution.

Objecting to bail, Det Sgt McMorrow cited the nature and seriousness of the allegations.

He said there was a multi jurisdictional investigation into an alleged operation importing controlled drugs into Australia and New Zealand by Irish nationals. Cocaine of “high purity” was concealed internally by couriers on flights, who met Irish nationals by arrangement in Australia and New Zealand.

The cocaine, which was then mixed down, had a market value in New Zealand that was four times the value in Ireland, Det Sgt McMorrow said.

The drugs were sold and the proceeds sent back to Ireland by Western Union transfers and by strapping cash onto the returning couriers returning to Ireland, he continued.

During this period, a New Zealand bank account had been frozen with NZ$72,000 left after an attempt to launder €500,000 into Ireland, Sgt McMorrow said.

According to gardai, Mr Fennell was the “principal organiser in this endeavour.”

There were some 50 Western Union transactions attributed to the accused. It was alleged he physically collected three transactions of €5,000 that were transferred.

Det Sgt McMorrow said evidence was gleaned from mobile phones seized from the accused.

These included a phone seized from him at Darwin airport, Australia in 2015. More phones were seized at an apartment in Dublin.

There was evidence of the accused’s communication with two other named alleged co-conspirators, Det Sgt McMorrow said.

It was alleged Mr Fennell was the “controlling force” and was involved in “every facet” of the operation, including procuring bank accounts and sourcing couriers.

Det Sgt McMorrow said the accused was unemployed and had been for most of his life, but had “huge access to cash reserves”.

He was in contact with successful business owners in Dublin which he used as “leverage” in the money laundering operation, it was alleged.

According to the gardai, he also set up “fake companies” to legitimise the money coming into his account and acquired “high-end property” from unsuspecting landlords.

The garda referred to the accused setting up a tanning salon in Skerries and listed foreign locations he had flown to in recent years, including Dubai, Colombia, Ethiopia, New York and South Africa.

When he was arrested at Dublin Airport, he had come from Lithuania.
Det Sgt McMorrow said he did not believe the accused would stay in Ireland to stand trial if granted bail.

Applying for bail, defence barrister Oisin Clarke said it was a complex investigation with “many moving parts.”

He said the accused, who is presumed innocent, was aware of the garda investigation in 2018 and had flown to locations with no extradition treaties with Ireland, from which he could easily have “disappeared.” He was also arrested coming back to Ireland.

Judge Smyth granted bail in the accused’s own bond of €500, with a €20,000 independent surety, half in cash. Under conditions, he is to live at his home address, surrender all travel documents, stay in the Republic of Ireland and sign on three times daily at his local garda station.

He was remanded in custody with consent to bail to appear in Cloverhill District Court on October 23.

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