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‘Fat’ Tony pays the Costa Washed-up playboy Armstrong had fallen on hard times before hooking up with pal Gilligan

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Tony Armstrong is arrested by Spanish police

Tony Armstrong is arrested by Spanish police

John Gilligan is cuffed by Spanish police

John Gilligan is cuffed by Spanish police

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Tony Armstrong is arrested by Spanish police

Washed-up playboy ‘Fat’ Tony Armstrong had fallen on hard times before hooking up with his old pal John Gilligan in Spain’s Costa Blanca, the Sunday World can reveal.

Armstrong (50), who was previously arrested in connection with the murder of the notorious Westies gang leaders, could be seen pinned to the ground in footage released by Spanish police last week.

It is suspected that ‘Fat’ Tony is part of Gilligan’s gang of ageing crooks using the postal system to deal drugs.

Armstrong and three others were arrested as officers investigate a growhouse in Alicante where they believe the mob source and package the drugs for transport to the UK and Ireland.

Last October, Gilligan, his English girlfriend and his son Darren, were all busted by the Police Nationale in dramatic raids around Alicante.

Gilligan (68) was jailed but released on bail late last year after as officers continue their probe into drugs and a gun found at a villa where he was arrested.

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Armstrong is wrestled down by police in Spain

Armstrong is wrestled down by police in Spain

Armstrong is wrestled down by police in Spain

When they moved in on him last October he was arrested surrounded with pills and cannabis.

Last week four more suspected members of the Gilligan crew were targeted and police said one was in charge of a grow house while the others were responsible for dealing with buyers in the UK and posting drugs from Spain.

Gilligan was the only one of the six initial detainees held in the first part of the Spanish police operation last October who was sent to prison.

He was released pending an ongoing criminal court probe just before Christmas after putting up €12,000 bail.

While police investigations continued, officers focused in on Gilligan’s old pal ‘Fat’ Tony who was once a playboy prince of the Costa Blanca but who had fallen on hard times.

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Shane Coates (left) and Stephen Sugg were shot dead

Shane Coates (left) and Stephen Sugg were shot dead

Shane Coates (left) and Stephen Sugg were shot dead

He is well known to Spanish police and was arrested in connection with the death of the notorious Westies gang leaders, Shane Coates and Stephen Sugg almost 15 years ago.

Armstrong had once been the toast of criminals on the Costa Blanca where he ran a number of busy pubs and restaurants.

The money poured in as ex-pats partied hard and lax licencing laws meant that drink was served virtually 24/7.

His villa in posh Los Balcones in Torrevieja was a regular spot for an all-night party. He was suspected of looking after jailed Gilligan’s Spanish investments but when the Westies arrived in Alicante in 2003 they tried to muscle in and upset the power balance of the region.

The pair had become notorious in Ireland where they had tortured and terrorised drug dealers and users alike in a reign of terror which put them under the radar of Gardai and rival gangsters.

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John Gilligan

John Gilligan

John Gilligan

In Spain the duo partied hard and tried to use the same intimidation methods that had previously worked in Blanchardstown.

They were last seen on January 31 2004 as they left their apartments near Alicante telling their girlfriends they would be back in an hour but were never seen alive again.

More than two years later Gardai in Ireland received a tip that the pair had been murdered and had been buried in near Catral.

This led to a search of the area and in June 2006 Coates (31) and Sugg (27) were found shot dead and encased in a concrete grave in an Alicante warehouse. Within days Armstrong was arrested at his villa and brought before the courts.

As he would soon learn the wheels of justice in Spain can often turn very slowly and although no official charges in relation to the double murders were brought against him Armstrong was held in prison for an incredible 10 months before he managed to get solicitors to apply for his release.

He was only released after friends loaned him €55,000 bail but in the time he was away, Spain and particularly the Costa Blanca had undergone huge change and was on the brink of a tough recession.

On his release Armstrong found his businesses were no longer viable and lost his home.

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While he had hoped to return home to Ireland he was afraid that his past would catch up with him. Armstrong was once a close associate of a number of leading criminals involved in drug distribution.

His pal Paul Fitzgerald was busted by undercover Garda National Drugs Unit officers with €50,000 worth of cocaine in 2004 and received a 10-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to the charges.

Before moving to Spain Armstrong was the chief suspect in a daring armed raid in Dublin’s city centre. He went on the run following a €60,000 robbery at the TSB on Henry Street in the capital.

Two other Dubliners, Martin Byrne and Joanne Dicker, were convicted of the crime.

John Gilligan is currently out on bail in Spain after being arrested following the seizure of drugs and a handgun by police.

Initially it was thought that the gun, a lesser used Colt, could have been the keepsake from the Veronica Guerin murder but ballistic tests proved that it was not.

Ageing Gilligan was released from prison in 2013 and tried to muscle back into the drug trade but he was shot and badly injured within months and fled the country while he recovered.

He was later collated travelling between Spain, Ireland and the UK and was caught in Belfast with a large sum of money. He was jailed but released again and returned to the Costa Blanca.

There, unbeknownst to him, Spanish police put him and others under surveillance and realised he was back in business with a cannabis supply chain which was using the postal system.

Police in Spain have confirmed the latest operation is linked to the one involving Gilligan’s arrest and claimed they had dismantled the gang he is suspected of leading with the latest arrests.

A spokesman for the Spanish police said: “The operation is related to the arrest of a well-known Irish criminal last year.”

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