We Hope, no Family, will ever Get so Ruthless, and Dangerous, ever Again, last Tuesday, in City Hall, in Dublin, Changed everything?

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‘No one family will ever get that big again’ — The making of a Super Cartel

16th April 2022

This week’s press conference stunned all those with an interest in the Kinahans, especially when they were linked to a number of the world’s most ruthless organisations.

For those who perhaps weren’t getting how big this announcement was, associate director of the US office of Foreign Assets Control Greg Gatjanis spelt it out in typically frank American fashion. ‘As of today,’ he declared. ‘The Kinahan transnational organisation joins the likes of Italy’s Camorra, Mexico’s Los Zetas, Japan’s Yakuza and Russia’s Izmaylovskaya.’

It was quite the roll call of notorious Criminal Organisations. The idea that an Irish crime gang was now being publicly compared to some of the most vicious, ruthless and profitable mobsters in the world took some of those gathered at a press conference this week in Dublin’s City Hall a little by surprise.This week’s press conference stunned all those with an interest in the Kinahans, especially when they were linked to a number of the world’s most ruthless organisations. Photo: Collins.© Provided by Extra.ie This week’s press conference stunned all those with an interest in the Kinahans, especially when they were linked to a number of the world’s most ruthless organisations. Photo: Collins.

‘You need to understand, for years, whenever you put any of the Kinahan stuff to the gardaí, they’d always tiptoe around it,’ says one seasoned crime journalist. ‘The go-to line was always: “We can’t comment on any particular group, we’re investigating all elements of organised crime.”

‘But here they were on Tuesday morning, going full throttle for basically the first time ever.’

Indeed, from the sounds of it, the atmosphere at the press briefing in City Hall’s opulent Rotunda was positively electric.

‘We’re more used to getting briefed on the road, usually in the wind and rain, outside the Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park,’ laughs the crime journalist. ‘So when we heard it was inside City Hall, we had an idea there was going to be a significant announcement.’

The sight of several senior ranking members of police forces from the UK and the US sitting either side of a large screen, was also a dead giveaway that something huge was in the offing.

‘They started off by explaining who was going to speak and then up popped photos of the three Kinahans, with a $5 million bounty underneath each of their photos, like an old-fashioned Wanted poster,’ says the hack. ‘No one was expecting that, it really blew us away.’Christy Kinahan – also known as “Dapper Don”.© Provided by Extra.ie Christy Kinahan – also known as “Dapper Don”.

Anyone even slightly aware of Ireland’s drug gang activity would have immediately recognised the faces of Dublin man Christy Kinahan, 65, and his two sons, Daniel, 45, and 41-year-old Christy Jnr. For years their cartel has run a drugs operation that US law enforcement this week estimated is worth €1 billion – an astonishing figure that was long suspected but only finally confirmed.

Because of Ireland’s strict defamation laws, only limited details about their dealings and associates have been published or spoken about in the media.

Tuesday changed everything.

As well as naming the Kinahans and offering $5 million ‘for information leading to the financial disruption of the Kinahan Organised Crime Organisation or the arrest and/or conviction’ for each of the three men, it was announced that the US Treasury has imposed multiple sanctions on the gang’s businesses. US banks and companies are barred from dealing with the Kinahans and four other men who were named as their associates – Ian Thomas Dixon, 32, Sean McGovern, 36, Bernard Clancy, 44, and John Francis Morrissey, 62. All seven men are also banned from boarding US airlines.

It was all extraordinary stuff. At the briefing were representatives from the US Department of State, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) from the US Department of the Treasury, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), Europol and An Garda Síochána, including its Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

Many of them got up to speak, including Garda commissioner Drew Harris, CBP deputy commissioner Troy Miller and the DEA’s special operations chief Wendy Woolcock, each explaining the damage meted out by the Kinahan cartel. and of the work being done to shut them down.

‘Usually when there are so many speakers, people’s concentration starts to wander,’ says the crime correspondent. ‘Not this time. You could hear a pin drop the whole way through, everyone was completely enthralled.’Daniel Kinahan speaking on a podcast.© Provided by Extra.ie Daniel Kinahan speaking on a podcast.

But perhaps of all the contributions, it was the US foreign assets chief Greg Gatjanis who really stunned the crowd when he told how law enforcement in the US ranked the Kinahans alongside some of the most wanted international criminals in the world. It’s a comparison that criminal experts insist is by no means ‘a reach’.

‘I don’t think it was an overly dramatic thing to say,’ says one source who has worked at the forefront of Irish crime for over two decades. ‘I think the Kinahans have been mirroring a lot of what those other organisations have done, their propaganda campaigns for a start, it’s all very Mexican cartel stuff.’

For those of us only vaguely aware of the entire Kinahan saga, it might come as something of a surprise to learn just how big the family got after fleeing Ireland and setting up in Spain, before ending up in Dubai, where the three wanted men now live.

‘The reason the Americans got involved here is that four criminal mobs – the Dutch/Moroccans, the Bosnians, the Italian Comoros and the Kinahans – came together to form a “SUPER CARTEL”,’ explains our crime expert. ‘Since they joined forces, they’ve been pumping Europe full of guns and drugs.

‘The DEA discovered it when they had Daniel Kinahan under surveillance. At his wedding a few years ago, they spotted the various mob bosses there as guests. It’s how the Kinahans organised their important meetings, using big parties or events as a cover.’

It sounds like the plot of an epic gangster film or a long-running TV mobster show. But for a long time, there has been a very real fear that Ireland’s organised crime gangs have been getting the upper hand, and where that might lead.

‘Let’s face it,’ says the crime reporter. ‘Those lads have spent a lot of years playing the Gardaí for fools, especially in the communities they come from, flaunting their wealth, posing on social media. The setting up of CAB [the Criminal Assets Bureau, which targets the proceeds of crime] has helped, but it still felt at times like they were able to just do what they wanted.’

Indeed, it’s possibly this poisonous absorption into several Irish communities – places almost now resigned to living with a drug and gangster culture – that helped prompt the dramatic comparison to some of the most notorious cartels in the world. All of the groups mentioned by Gatjanis have long histories of exerting formidable control over the towns and cities where they come from.

Take, for instance, the Camorra in Italy, made up of more than 100 crime clans, dating back to the 17th century, based in and around the city of Naples. This ancient way of certain ‘families’ running things, is not an organisation like the Mafia. Instead, Neapolitans call it ‘the system’, one which gives them work, lends them money and keeps their streets safe.

They also carry out a lot of crime. In the early days it was smuggling, blackmail, extortion and road robberies. In recent decades their main business turned to drug trafficking, racketeering, counterfeiting and money laundering, through which they have forged links to crime gangs in Europe and South America.‘They started off by explaining who was going to speak and then up popped photos of the three Kinahans, with a $5 million bounty underneath each of their photos,’ Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos© Provided by Extra.ie ‘They started off by explaining who was going to speak and then up popped photos of the three Kinahans, with a $5 million bounty underneath each of their photos,’ Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Naturally, when you have a lot of different clans involved, there’s a lot of in-fighting over who gets to be the Camorra boss. In the last decade many top clan bosses have either been killed or arrested, leaving a vacuum in which younger, less disciplined crime gangs are trying to take control.

It’s led to an even more volatile situation in the area, leading some officials to ironically claim the government needs the old-style Camorra for social control because they ‘set standards, enforced laws, kept the police power in check, employed a huge percentage of the population and created and distributed wealth more efficiently than any other sector of society’.

The Los Zetas Cartel is a much more recent phenomenon, based in the northeast of Mexico, a country synonymous with drug crime and corruption. They started life as part of the notorious Gulf Cartel, in the 1990s, when more than 30 ex-soldiers were taken on to help with drug trafficking, executions and kidnappings.

However, in 2010, the Los Zetas faction broke away and turned against the Gulf Cartel, sparking a bloody turf war. The Zetas became well-known for their brutality, torturing and decapitating victims. By 2012, they’d become Mexico’s biggest drug gang, branching out into anything that would make them money, from cigarette smuggling to human trafficking.

Over the next few years, however, leaders were either killed or caught, leading to a crisis within the group that caused them to splinter. But while they may not be the biggest any more, they are still considered dangerous.

The history of the Yakuza in Japan, like the Camorra, stretches back to the 17th century, when they were members of the lowest class of Japanese society and so badly treated and ostracised that they turned to crime. It began with stealing, selling stolen goods and illegal gambling, and evolved into organised crime gangs with strict codes of loyalty, silence and obedience. One of their ancient practices is to cover themselves in elaborate tattoos. Another way to spot these Japanese gangsters is if they have a missing finger on their left hand – a standard punishment for disloyalty.

They made their fortune in drugs and to this day, nearly every illegal drug in Japan is imported by the Yakuza. They also traffic women.

Like the Camorra, for a long time they operated pretty openly, tolerated by authorities who saw how they were revered and obeyed.

In recent decades they made the audacious move into the world of legitimate business and at their peak, 50 registered companies listed on the Osaka Security Exchange are estimated to have had deep ties to organised crime.

The government reacted fiercely.

Much like the sanctions on the Kinahan cartel, Japanese businesses were banned from being associated with a Yakuza member or activity – they could no longer open bank accounts, rent homes, get insurance or get mobile phone accounts.

Membership plummeted from just over 70,000 in 2011 to just under 26,000 in 2020, according to the National Centre for Removal of Criminal Organisations. Experts have warned, however, that while there has been success at isolating the Yakuza gang, other criminals have moved in, with cybercrime and profiteering from legal drugs like sleeping pills and morphine on the rise.Christopher Kinahan, Jr.© Provided by Extra.ie Christopher Kinahan, Jr.

In Russia, there are believed to be three main crime syndicates: the Tambov gang from St Petersburg, the Solntsevskaya Brotherhood from Moscow and the Izmaylovskaya gang, which was set up in the mid-1980s and named after the Izmaylovo District in Moscow.

While their activities are mainly focused on protection money, blackmail and drugs, they also are involved in illegal activity around the lucrative business of oil, gas and other natural resources.

By anyone’s standards, it’s a particularly disreputable grouping to be lumped in with so it’s little wonder the press conference on Tuesday had such an impact.

‘The atmosphere was incredible, we were asking ourselves afterwards, did this actually happen? There was so much to take in,’ explains the crime journalist. ‘To make those comparisons, to hear about all those sanctions, to finally have the Kinahans officially acknowledged like that, it was extraordinary.’

‘We target criminals who cause the most harm, are the most violent, those who exploit the vulnerable and dominate communities,’ the NCA deputy director of investigations Matt Horne told them. ‘The Kinahan crime group fall into all of those categories. They have transcended international boundaries – distributing multi-million pound shipments of drugs throughout Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe, and have been engaging in firearms trafficking and money laundering.

‘They thought they were untouchable, but the sanctions imposed today will be a huge blow to the Kinahans. It has cut them off from the global financial system, making them toxic to legitimate businesses and financial institutions, and will cause other criminals to think twice about doing business with them.’

In some ways, it’s hard to believe the Kinahans were allowed to get this big, with Daniel of late enjoying a high-profile career as a boxing promoter, albeit a controversial one. They have never tried to hide the wealth they have accumulated through crime.

‘Some of the stuff in Spain is obscene,’ says our crime expert. ‘While in Dubai, they’re changing cars every week from Lamborghinis to Ferraris. They have so much money they don’t know what to do with it.’

For the moment, however, there is cautious optimism that Tuesday’s announcements will ‘change the face of crime fighting forever’.

‘There will never be another day like it,’ says the crime expert. ‘No one family will ever get that big again. There was a disjointed situation there for a while, the Kinahans were able to go to Spain, where the Irish guards couldn’t touch them. But now there is proper intelligence sharing across so many different law enforcement agencies, and that is key.’

‘We left City Hall knowing it had been a monumental event,’ agrees our long-time crime journalist. ‘One that will be spoken about for years to come and will be remembered as the first time we truly thought this might be the beginning of the end for the Kinahans.’a man wearing a hat: In some ways, it’s hard to believe the Kinahans were allowed to get this big, with Daniel of late enjoying a high-profile career as a boxing promoter.© Provided by Extra.ie In some ways, it’s hard to believe the Kinahans were allowed to get this big, with Daniel of late enjoying a high-profile career as a boxing promoter.

As always, however, there will be others keen to take their place and there are many young people growing up in communities where the spoils of drug dealing are considered worth the risk.

The funeral of the latest gangland victim, James Whelan, took place in Finglas, north Dublin, on Thursday and the priest told how the 29-year-old’s devastated mother Sonya had described him as ‘a torment. The bane of her life. She spent all her years worrying about him and what he was doing and with whom he was involved.’

In what is becoming a familiar scene at funerals connected to Dublin gangs, Whelan’s gold coffin was accompanied to the church by an ostentatious cortege, including Porsches and Bentleys.

‘All the windows were down, and they were blaring gangster rap,’ one local told Extra.ie.

There are many other communities that have been irreparably damaged by the Kinahan cartel.

‘The people of Oliver Bond flats [where Daniel Kinahan Snr grew up and started his drug business] have been forgotten,’ says the crime expert. ‘What the Kinahans have done to that community and are continuing to do is horrific, they’ve destroyed it, entire families wiped out.’

While the end of the Kinahans’ reign may finally be in sight, their malignant legacy lives on.

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