Associates of crime boss John Gilligan are believed to be property hunting around the town of Torreviejo
Owen Conlon, Alicante, and John Burke
IRISH drug criminals, as well as former republican and loyalist paramilitaries, have set up a new base for their multi-million-euro illegal operations in the Alicante region of Spain . . . in the city of Torrevieja, a location which has also become hugely popular with Irish foreign-home buyers.
The Sunday Tribune understands that gardai and Spanish police are monitoring the influx of several well-known Irish criminals and paramilitaries into the city's property market in recent months.
Among those who are believed to have invested proceeds from armed robberies and drug sales are members of the emerging west Dublin gangs, seeking a safe place to conceal their illicit cash.
Over half of the 85,000 population in Torrevieja are foreign nationals . . . mostly Irish and English couples in their 40s and 50s who have paid out thousands of euro on second homes for investment or pension purposes.
A two- to three-bed townhouse in a good part of the city can cost from around 140,000 upwards while small apartment are much cheaper than here, at around 85,000 for a 75sq ft apartment.
However, many expatriate Irish citizens who travel back and forth to the city, and who have invested much of their savings there, have become uncomfortable at the sight of increasing numbers of Irish criminals in clubs and bars, enjoying the city's many popular nightlife venues.
While there is no clear indication that a large amount of illegal drugs business is being conducted by Irish criminals in the city, the booming property trade has also seen an influx of Russian mafia as well as Moroccan and expatriate English drug dealers, all of whom are eager to expand traffic routes for the transit of hard drugs . . . especially cocaine . . . into western Europe.
Pedra Cerrada, crime reporter with the regional newspaper Diario Informaci n de Alicante, told the Sunday Tribune that the emergence of Irish criminals in the region has become particularly noticable over the past eight to 10 months.
But scant police resources are provided to tackle the newly arriving foreign criminals, he says.
Among those believed to have been property shopping are associates of jailed crime boss John Gilligan, including John Traynor.
While Traynor has denied in media interviews since that he is involved in drug dealing, he is reported to be on the move to southeastern Alicante, after previously being based in Costa del Sol.
It is also believed that top members of a handful of emerging west Dublin gangs have bought into the residential market in Torrevieja in recent months.
These include several small-time, but nonetheless ruthless, former associates of slain criminals Declan Curran and Paul Cunningham and their former crime boss, 24-year-old John Daly, who is presently in Portlaoise prison.
Garda sources suggest that some lesser-known criminals are using the booming residential market in Torrevieja to disperse some of their combined ill-gotten gains. The move is similar to a scam which was operated successfully by members of the Keane and Ryan gangs in Limerick in 2002, when they sought to hide large sums of cash by giving money to reliable associates, who then purchased the properties on their behalf.
Among other new residents are top Northern loyalists, brothers Gary and Donald Murno, who reside in Orihuella, beside Torrevieja.
Spain is Europe's biggest dropping-off point for drugs, accounting for 60% of the continental total, according to Europol.
Cocaine mainly comes via South America, in through the hundreds of unprotected river estuaries in Galicia in the northwest. Hashish largely comes across the straits from Morocco and into the Costa del Sol.
Hundreds of millions of euro obtained in drug sales are laundered into cashbased tourism businesses and then into property on the continent.
Alicante has been rough ground for some Irish criminals. Spanish police believe that former paramilitaries are behind the disappearance of missing criminal Sean Dunne, who is believed to have been abducted last August.
Dunne, who is under investigation by the Criminal Assets Bureau, went missing shortly after arriving in Spain on 8 September last.
According to a Spanish newspaper, police believe Dunne's disappearance is the work of ex-IRA or ex-UDA members who have re-cast themselves as guns for hire in what can best be described as the new Old West.
It was here that the brutal Westies drugs gang leaders Shane Coates and Stephen Sugg fled after their shoot out with gardai at a safehouse in Virginia, Co Cavan, in Febrary 2003.
And it was from here that they disappeared amid claims that they fell foul of any one of a number of African and English criminals whom they associated with while in Alicante.
However, it is now believed that the duo arranged to have their abduction faked and are presently in hiding in Morocco. It is also here that one of the biggest drug gangs supplying dealers in Limerick and west Dublin, was dealt a major blow, just before Christmas, when the ringleader . . . a 40-year-old Dublin man . . . was arrested after a joint Irish, Dutch and Spanish police operation.
But there are many attractions to living in Torrevieja.
Few of the big players are well known in the city, giving them greater freedom to work and play.
There is also the added bonuses that Alicante airport is just 30 minutes drive away; the city boasts 320 days of sunshine a year; and temperatures in Torrevieja rarely fall below 150C in winter.
The ideal destination for drug dealers with some money to spare.
January 16, 2005