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'Machinery racketeer' Border bandit Damien McPhilips accused of €1m farm machinery theft

Previously convicted’ Damien McPhillips stands accused of €1 million farm machinery theft in Belgium

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Damien McPhilips is being tried in his absence

Damien McPhilips is being tried in his absence

Damien McPhilips is being tried in his absence

This is the convicted 'machinery racketeer' who is being tried in absence by Belgium authorities over a €1 million series of crane, excavator and trailer thefts.

Prosecutors in Belgium allege Damien McPhillips, a close associate of deceased border crime boss Cyril McGuinness, was part of a five-person gang involved in the theft of the high value equipment across west Flanders.

Prosecutors allege that between September 30, 2016 and February 28, 2018, the gang - comprising four men and one woman - committed a total of 12 offences.

Various types of heavy machinery were stolen during the thefts before being shipped across the Channel to the UK for resale.

McPhillips is alleged by prosecutors to have been one of the pivotal figures in the business.

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Cyril McGuinness was hiding in England before his death

Cyril McGuinness was hiding in England before his death

Collins Courts.

Cyril McGuinness was hiding in England before his death

The Belgian Public Prosecution Service has demanded a five-year sentence for McPhillips - who was not present in court this week.

A 34-year-old Irishman, Patrick Duffy, who was arrested in Sweden and extradited back to Belgium is facing a sentence of 37 months over the racket.

A laptop recovered during Duffy's arrest is understood to have contained details of the plate numbers and transport arrangements allegedly relating to the stolen equipment. It emerged in court Duffy confessed his involvement in three thefts but stressed that he did not play a key role.

A British trucker identified as Michael S (48), who prosecutors allege transported some of the equipment between Belgium and Ireland, is facing 24 months in prison.

However this individual says he was unaware that he was transporting stolen machines.

The judge is expected to rule on sentencing on January 5.

McPhillips was previously jailed for two years in 2014 for possession of a stolen truck.

During the trial he was described as a 'machinery racketeer'.

He was also one of a number of people sentenced in connection with a multi-million machinery theft racket run by Cyril McGuinness in the 2000s.

Police in Bruges launched Operation Secund with gardaí in 2007 after receiving a tip-off that Irish smugglers, led by McGuinness, were stealing machinery from farms across Belgium.

Haul

The haul included a €480,000 cement pumping truck, a €109,000 bulk tanker, €54,000 worth of trailers and €72,000 in tractors.

The machines were later resprayed and shipped to Rosslare before being sold to unsuspecting farmers across Ireland, the north and the UK.

Proceeds from the sale of the heavy plant machinery were later placed in bogus bank accounts.

McPhillips was jailed for four years for his role in the racket while McGuinness was extradited by military helicopter to Belgium to serve a seven-year sentence in 2009 for running the €3.4 million scam.

McGuinness was, however, freed just two years later after his legal team successfully appealed his sentence after establishing a loophole in his warrant in Belgium. Police believe it was after he returned to Co. Fermanagh from his prison stint in Belgium that McGuinness was recruited by a 'paymaster' to wage a campaign of intimidation against the Quinn group.

His litany of terror included fire bombings, death threats and arson attacks, and culminated in the abduction of Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) director Kevin Lunney on September 17, 2019.

The 50-year-old was kidnapped outside his home near Derrylin, Co. Fermanagh, and taken in a horsebox across the border, where he was savagely beaten.

His attackers broke his leg, sliced his fingernails and face with a Stanley knife, carved QIH on his chest, and doused the father of six in bleach.

The attack was the most serious in a five-year campaign of intimidation targeting the companies and directors that now control the business portfolio built up by fallen tycoon Sean Quinn, once Ireland's richest man. In the wake of the Lunney abduction McGuinness fled to Derbyshire, England.

But he died suddenly following a police raid on the Derbyshire bolthole on November 8 of last year.

Police said McGuinness smoked three cigarettes and drank a cup of tea while sitting on a sofa following his arrest at around 7am before collapsing 90 minutes later.

Offciers called an ambulance and attempted resuscitation immediately, but the 54-year-old died almost three hours after his arrest.

Brutal

The raid was part of a co-ordinated series of search operations, mainly focused on the Irish border area, linked to the brutal attack on Lunney in September.

Meanwhile sources say Belgian prosecutors will seek a fresh European Arrest Warrant for Damien McPhillips if he is convicted on January 5.

He is currently thought to be living in the UK.

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