By Tom Brady
Wednesday August 02 2006
Gardai detain five men during seizure of a €2.5m cannabis haul
THE prime suspect for a gangland murder in Dublin last May was being questioned last night after the seizure of €2.5m of cannabis resin.
He was one of five men detained by detectives from the Garda organised crime unit after the interception of the haul, which belonged to a top gangland criminal. The seizure was part of Operation Oak, a special crackdown on the activities of the gang boss. The find was hailed last night as a serious financial blow to the criminal, who is responsible for large-scale drug trafficking in the capital as well as a series of armed robberies that netted more than €2m for the gang in Dublin and surrounding counties.
One of the five men in garda custody is the top suspect for the murder of drug dealer Paddy Harte (42), a father of five who was shot dead outside his home at Edenmore Avenue in Raheny last May.
Harte had been associated with the drugs-gang boss, but was later accused by him of operating his own drug distribution business "on the side" and he was murdered on the orders of the gang leader.
Harte was not known as a big player in any of the drugs gangs but, after his death, gardai discovered a number of properties in his name and called in the Criminal Assets Bureau.
The main suspect for the shooting was one of the first three men of the five to be detained on Monday. Gardai arrested the three after finding 350kg of cannabis being transferred from a van to a car at Brownsbarn, in the City West area of Dublin, off the Naas dual carriageway.
The drugs had earlier been loaded onto the van at the nearby Baldonnel business park and the men were kept under watch by members of the national surveillance unit as the shipment was moved again to prepare for distribution.
Gardai hailed the drug seizure as a serious financial blow to the number-one criminal in town
The garda interception was the result of intelligence gathered by members of the organised crime unit, which was set up late last year by Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy to focus on key gangland figures.
The three men, aged 39, 38 and 21, were taken to Clondalkin Garda Station for questioning under drug-trafficking legislation, which allows them to be held without charge for up to seven days.
Two other men, aged 25 and 28, were arrested in follow-up searches and taken to Crumlin and Ballyfermot stations for questioning.
Gardai believe that the drug shipment arrived in the country recently through Dublin Port and was intended for distribution on the streets of north and west Dublin.
The value of the seizure was estimated to be around €2.5m, depending on the outcome of forensic analysis of the shipment.
The find was the latest in a series of setbacks to man whom Operation Oak is targeting. In one of these, last April the organised crime unit and the emergency response unit foiled his gang's plans to snatch an €80,000 payroll from a firm in Balbriggan, north Dublin.
In May, a close associate of the gang boss was arrested after the discovery of a cocaine-processing plant in a house near Swords, Co Dublin.
Senior detectives said the target had established himself as the "number-one criminal in town".
Members of the gang are also suspected of being linked to a ton of marijuana recovered by gardai on the M1 motorway last November, and to previous drug seizures in Skerries and Ballyfermot.
- Tom Brady