Socialite ‘controlling force’ in international drug ring, court told
Gardaí say Mr Fennell was involved in every facet of scheme
October 21 2020 02:30 AM
A Dublin socialite has been described as the “controlling force” behind an international drug trafficking and money laundering operation.
Francis Fennell (31) was involved in “every facet” of a conspiracy to import drugs into Australia and New Zealand and to send proceeds back to Ireland, gardaí alleged.
Dublin District Court heard couriers were used to smuggle high-purity cocaine on flights, with the proceeds either strapped to them when they returned, or sent by money transfer to Ireland.
Mr Fennell was granted bail despite garda objections, with a €20,000 surety required before he is released.
The accused, of Balcurris Gardens in Ballymun, is charged with conspiring with others to bring the proceeds of criminal conduct into the State, between May 22, 2012 and June 1, 2016.
Detective Sergeant Ronan McMorrow of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau said the accused was arrested at the arrivals hall at Dublin Airport’s Terminal 1 on Monday.
Objecting to bail, he said there was a multi-jurisdictional investigation into an alleged operation importing controlled drugs into Australia and New Zealand by Irish nationals.
Cocaine of “high purity” was concealed internally by couriers on flights. The cocaine, which was mixed down, was worth four times in New Zealand the market value in Ireland.
Proceeds were sent back to Ireland by Western Union transfers and by strapping cash on to the returning couriers, he continued. A New Zealand bank account had been frozen with $72,000 left after an attempt to launder €500,000 into Ireland, Det-Sgt McMorrow said.
According to gardaí, Mr Fennell was the “principal organiser”.
There were some 50 Western Union transactions attributed to the accused. It was alleged he physically collected three transactions of €5,000 that were transferred.
Det-Sgt McMorrow said there was evidence on phones seized from the accused of communication with two other named alleged co-conspirators.
It was alleged Mr Fennell was involved in “every facet” of the operation, including procuring bank accounts and couriers.
Det-Sgt McMorrow said the accused was unemployed but had “huge access to cash reserves“. He was in contact with successful business owners in Dublin which he used as “leverage” in the money laundering operation, it was alleged.
According to the gardaí, he also set up “fake companies” to legitimise the money coming into his account and acquired “high-end property”.
Det-Sgt McMorrow listed foreign locations the accused had flown to in recent years, including Dubai, Colombia, Ethiopia, New York and South Africa. When he was arrested he had come from Lithuania.
Det-Sgt McMorrow said he did not believe the accused would stay in Ireland to stand trial if granted bail.
Defence barrister Oisín Clarke said the accused, who is presumed innocent, was aware of the investigation in 2018 and had flown to locations from which he could easily have “disappeared” if he had wanted to evade justice. He was arrested coming back to Ireland.
Judge Smyth granted bail with a €20,000 independent surety, half in cash. Mr Fennell is to live at his home address, surrender all travel documents, stay in the Republic of Ireland and sign on three times daily at his local garda station.
He was remanded in custody with consent to bail to appear in Cloverhill District Court on October 23.