Thursday, 7 December 2000

Journalist 'was killed to save drugs empire'

Shooting plan was dictated from foreign hideaway, court told
Vikram Dodd in Dublin
The Guardian, Thursday 7 December 2000 08.38 GMT
The assassination of investigative journalist Veronica Guerin was ordered by an Irish drugs baron, who from abroad directed members of his gang to execute her, a Dublin court heard yesterday.
John Gilligan, 48, denies murder and 15 counts of smuggling drugs and firearms into Ireland between 1994 and 1996.
The special criminal court in Dublin, which sits without a jury, heard that Gilligan ordered the hit as he was facing the threat of jail because of a case brought against him by Ms Guerin.
She had pressed assault charges against him after she had confronted him at his home, and Gilligan feared a jail sentence would threaten his lucrative drugs empire, the prosecution alleged.
The court also heard evidence that Gilligan phoned Ms Guerin and threatened to murder her, the day after she had "doorstepped" him.
The murder of Ms Guerin, married with one young son, led to one of the biggest criminal investigations in Ireland to hunt down the killers.
Ms Guerin, 37, was crime correspondent of the Sunday Independent newspaper and had won awards for her work exposing criminals in the Irish Republic.
She was shot dead on June 26, 1996, on the Naas road in Dublin, when a man on a motorcycle fired six bullets from a .357 Magnum revolver into her body.
Opening the prosecution case, Peter Charleton said Gilligan was the "controlling mind" behind the assassination. "He committed this offence through his agents, his agents being members of a gang under his control who all of the while acted according to his will."
Mr Charleton said Gilligan commanded the gang, which operated in secrecy with "a cloak of terror" using "vicious and violent threats" against anyone who threatened his will, including Ms Guerin.
The prosecution alleged that Gilligan had smuggled hundreds of kilograms of cannabis into Ireland, and laundered the proceeds through Amsterdam.
Mr Charleton said: "John Gilligan had Veronica Guerin killed in order to protect his drugs empire and to ensure he did not go to jail at a time when he was making a great deal of money and perhaps his absence would have resulted in damage to that empire."
The prosecution said that Gilligan's "motive and intention" towards Ms Guerin was made clear the day before her murder.
Gilligan went to court for a scheduled hearing of the assault charge brought by the re porter. On his way in to court, Gilligan said to two Garda officers: "She is a f-ing stupid beeatch, this case will never get off the ground."
Later that same day Gilligan left Ireland, flying from Dublin to Amsterdam, but called his gang members to check on the progress of the murder plot. "John Gilligan deliberately left the jurisdiction, having put in place the elements for Veronica Guerin to be murdered, and from abroad directed that murder," Mr Charleton alleged.
On the day of the murder, Gilligan is alleged to have called Russell Warren, who will testify against him, from Amsterdam. Warren kept Ms Guerin under surveillance as she went to a court hearing after she had been stopped for speeding.
After her case, Ms Guerin drove back towards central Dublin with Gilligan's gang keeping her under surveillance.
Brian Meehan, convicted at a previous trial of Ms Guerin's murder, drove a Kawasaki motorcycle with the gunman, who was not named in court, riding as a pillion passenger.
Ms Guerin's car had stopped at traffic lights at the junction of Naas road and Boot road. At 12.54pm Ms Guerin made a call to a Garda officer on her mobile, which was taped.
The recording shows that Ms Guerin's conversation was in terrupted mid-sentence by a bang, with the prosecution saying she was shot at 12.55pm.
Felix McEnroy, a barrister, testified that on September 15, 1995, Gilligan phoned Ms Guerin while she was with him and threatened to shoot her, and to kidnap and rape her young son, Cahal.
Mr McEnroy had previously represented Gilligan in the late 1980s. He told the court that the day after Gilligan is alleged to have assaulted Ms Guerin, the reporter went to his office. Mr Mc Enroy said: "She had a bruising or swelling over her left eye."
He said Ms Guerin received a call on one of her two mobiles, during which she became afraid.
Mr Mc Enroy said he was basing his testimony on what he could hear of the call and on what Ms Guerin told him of its contents.
He said he heard abuse and then the caller said: "This is John Gilligan".
The call continued and then Mr McEnroy said he heard the voice alleged to be Gilligan say: "If you do one thing on me, or if you write about me, I will kidnap your son and ride him. I will shoot you, do you understand what I am saying?"
Mr McEnroy said he advised Ms Guerin to end the call and make a statement to police.
The trial continues.