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Smuggling probe Cops warn traffickers net is tightening on their lucrative trading

"High-level intelligence has been gathered and it has already proved to be very useful to us but very damaging to the gangs who, up until now, have felt they could get away with anything."

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National Crime Agency during a training exercise at the Northumbria Constabulary Ops Tactical training centre, South Tyneside. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire...A

National Crime Agency during a training exercise at the Northumbria Constabulary Ops Tactical training centre, South Tyneside. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire...A

National Crime Agency during a training exercise at the Northumbria Constabulary Ops Tactical training centre, South Tyneside. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire...A

Illegal smuggling and money laundering across the border into Northern Ireland is making a network of criminals millions of pounds a year.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned the cocky crooks that they are in their sights and the masterminds behind the intricate smuggling operations have been identified.

Despite the risks, the multi-million pound trade routes are as busy as ever.

Some of the men being investigated have been involved in smuggling for almost 20 years but are now one step closer to having their collar felt and their bank balances taking a massive hit.

The Sunday World has been informed that in recent months more accurate information has been collated and has already resulted in several arrests in Ireland, Spain and France.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, it has been claimed.

"High-level intelligence has been gathered and it has already proved to be very useful to us but very damaging to the gangs who, up until now, have felt they could get away with anything. They are wrong," said one security source.

"This is an international investigation and we are obtaining information from all levels. We know the majority of routes, we know who is pulling the strings and it involves a network of Irish people from both sides of the border.

"Some live here, others abroad but working hand and hand with local authorities, border police, we are really getting somewhere," he said.

Drugs, drink, cigarettes and people trafficking are all lucrative earners for the crime gangs that stretch from Ireland to Spain, Holland, France and all the way to Asia.

According to inside sources the network is operated by a string of families involved in the international haulage business, three of whom are based north of the border.

Undeterred by recent police and border operations, it's business as usual for the gangs who all have links to the Kinahan cartel - but that looks set to change. The NCA is determined to blow a massive hole in the gangs' coffers.

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The Sunday World can reveal that in the North loyalists are working hand in hand with border crime families, with access to haulage companies, to bring cocaine into Ulster.

Smuggling cocaine disguised as floor tiles is one method used by the sophisticated crooks, though as history has proved, food produce is also another favourite.

Sometimes the container is brought in by a driver and on other occasions it comes in unaccompanied and is picked up at the dock where it arrives.

That was the case in October 2019 when a container loaded with a human cargo of Vietnamese immigrants was driven across the continent and left in Belgium before being picked up across the channel in England.

The smuggelers came under intense scrutiny after the 39 people crammed into the container were found dead in the back of the lorry being driven by Co Armagh man Mo Robinson.

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Mo Robinson

Mo Robinson

Mo Robinson

Four men, three of whom are Irish, were jailed for the manslaughter of the migrants, who suffered "excruciatingly painful" deaths, having suffocated in the container en route from Belgium to Purfleet.

People smuggling has become a peculiarly Irish trade, but it is only part of the illicit trade being driven across the continent bound for these shores.

One source revealed that sometimes the driver doesn't even know what he is transporting, having been given orders by a calculating criminal who has no concern for the driver's freedom.

Said one haulage source: "There are some of these drivers who know exactly what is going on and are happy with it. There are others who walk away straight away, they value their families and freedom above the cash.

"There are others who don't even know what they are bringing in, they think it's food or bathrooms, things like that. Most of us couldn't care if it's fags or drink, that's fair game, good luck to them but when it involves people or drugs that's a different ballgame.

"And it is the drivers who take the fall, no matter what they know or don't know. But people are talking now, names of who is behind it are being mentioned and information has been passed to the relevant people.

"Sit back and see how long before it all starts to crumble."

In some cases it is the crime families who run the operation directly, selecting the location, the load and the driver. On other occasions they lease their lorries out to other criminals desperate for piece of the action.

The Sunday World is aware of the names of those involved, however for legal reasons are unable to reveal their identities at this stage.

Some hauliers from the border area have had containers impounded and drivers arrested but the majority of those at the top keep have so far managed to keep their hands clean. They pay others thousands of pounds to take the risk they refuse.

Current routes include Cherbourg, Valencia, Alicante and Halmstad.

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