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Businessman offers crime gangs private planes from remote airfield in Co Longford

Businessman offered gangs the use of private planes to make drug runs from France to Longford airfield

The Cessna plane.

The haul of cocaine

Patrick O'ConnellSunday World

A businessman had been offering a number of different crime gangs across the country the use of private planes and details about the remote airfield in Co. Longford for drugs transportation in recent months – sources said last night.

The veteran businessman, who has no involvement in the plane syndicate, cannot be named here for legal reasons as he is facing serious drug-trafficking charges.

The businessman has links to a number of the country’s biggest crime gangs, including the ‘Mr Big’ mob based on the capital’s northside.

Gardaí believe the €8.4 million shipment, seized last Thursday night, is likely to have originated with the Kinahan cartel and was destined to be divided amongst a number of gangs once it arrived here.

Gardaí also suspect the aircraft used may have been used for previous drug-smuggling trips – dating as far back as the Covid-19 lockdown.

And investigators are analysing the flight records of the Cessna plane to establish if the person behind last Thursday’s shipment had organised trips on the aircraft previously.

The Sunday World also understands that more arrests are expected in the investigation.

The development comes as it has emerged that Gardaí are “pretty certain” that the airfield at Abbeyshrule airfield, in Co. Longford, had been used for a number of major drug runs in the past year.

“There is a suspicion that this businessman, who is not one of the two arrested men, may have been one of the organisers of the seized cocaine,” a source said.

“He has already been a major target for specialist gardaí for years in relation to drugs trafficking and has been charged in relation to this,” a source said.

“He had been telling people specifically that he had access and detailed knowledge of a new route to get drugs into Ireland and this route has been used before to get shipments in,” the source added.

The haul of cocaine

The innocent owners of the aircraft yesterday spoke of their shock that it had been used to smuggle drugs.

“We’re just shocked to think this could have happened,” one of the owners told the Sunday World.

“We’re just members of a flying group and weren’t aware of any of this until we got the phone call to say our plane had been seized.

“I have spoken to the Gardaí about this … If the Gardaí need any help we will help them in any way we can and that’s the way it is.”

The syndicate member said he was alerted to the plane’s seizure by another syndicate member after he was notified by Abbeyshrule airfield.

“He was told the guys were there seizing it,” the member said.

“We were dumbfounded. The last thing we expected to see was our plane on the Six O Clock news.

“Not in a million years would any of us have thought that.”

In the past month alone, it’s understood the aircraft made two trips to northern France – identical to the one on Thursday after which the drugs were seized.

Last Thursday evening, gardaí from the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau were watching as the aircraft landed at Abbeyshrule airfield after flying back from northern France.

It’s understood two men exited the aircraft before removing six hold-all bags and a suitcase later found to contain 120kgs of cocaine with a street value of €8.4 million.

Two vehicles were stopped a short time later in Westmeath and the men arrested.

Speaking on Friday, Detective Supt Seamus Boland, of the Garda National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau, said Thursday’s operation had “stopped a large quantity of dangerous drugs making it onto our streets and causing significant harm to our communities.”

Asked if the Kinahan cartel were involved in Thursday €8.4 million shipment, he replied: “Investigations at this time are ongoing and those investigation will include us tracing and identifying the origin and the drug-trafficking network that is involved in this particular case.

“But I think it should be very obvious to anybody that any drug network that has the capability to purchase and transport drugs of this quantity into any jurisdiction is working on a global scale.

“So, all those matters are currently being investigated.”

Det Supt Boland said investigators were receiving significant co-operation from international partners in the investigation.

“The use of light aircraft,” he continued, “in transporting large quantities of drugs across Europe is not something new and isn’t something Ireland has escaped.

“This is actually the second occasion this year in 2022 that An Garda Síochána has seized a light aircraft in the course of investigations into transnational organised crime.”

Asked whether Gardaí were worried that criminal gangs were now using commercial airfields to smuggle drugs into Ireland, Det Supt Boland responded: “This is something new. Unfortunately, it’s something being experienced in every other jurisdiction.

“Every port of entry or route into this country, whether its via transport or through logistics, attempts will be made by organised crime gangs to corrupt that.”

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