DIGGING A HOLE |
Cork man jailed after dog photo and selfies expose €52m drug smuggling plot
Their plans were foiled when officers gained access to their EncroChat conversations, seeing a photo of Bob the French bulldog, the pooch of ringleader Danny Brown (55).
7th December 2022
A Cork man who was caught trying to smuggling €52 million worth of MDMA into Australia has been jailed for 24 years.
Leon Reilly (50) from Dunbeacon, Bantry in West Cork was part of a gang plot to smuggle a huge haul of drugs hidden in an industrial digger into Brisbane.
Their plans were foiled when officers gained access to their group chat, seeing a photo of Bob the French bulldog, the pooch of ringleader Danny Brown (55).
The phone number of the kingpin’s partner was inscribed on Bob’s collar, leading investigators to Danny and later to Corkman Reilly and the rest of the gang.
He was responsible for getting the digger into Australia from the UK, rigging an online auction in an attempt to make the deal look legitimate.
“There are six people watching it,” the West Cork native texted, worried their planned buyer would be outbid by someone who had no idea the arm was full of €52 million worth of drugs.
Reilly had arranged for the digger to be shipped from Leeds via his Cork-inspired company ‘Mizen Equipment.’
UK officers watched as he paid a haulage firm £1,600 to move the Doosan digger to Brisbane.
When it landed in March, the Australian Border Force x-rayed the excavator, removed the MDMA and re-sealed the arm before installing a tracker and listening device.
Brown’s Aussie associates spent two days trying find the drugs before taking to Encrochat.
The six UK criminals – including Reilly – launched their own investigation into the missing drugs, holding meetings about where they could be and who could have stolen them.
EncroChat messages allowed officers to watch as this played out before arresting Brown and co-conspirator Stefan Baldauf (62).
Accidental selfies they had taken and sent on the platform helped identify them.
As Brown showed off his TV in the group chat, officers could see his reflection in the screen.
Peter Murray (59), Tony Borg (45), Philip Lawson (61) and Irishman Reilly were all later charged and convicted.
They were sentenced to 24 years, 15 years, 23 years and 24 years respectively.
Two unnamed Australian men are currently charged with offences there.
“These men thought they were safe on EncroChat but my officers did a superb and painstaking job of building the evidence against them through a mixture of traditional and modern detective skills,” said Chris Hill, the operations manager for the National Crime Agency,
“Brown and Baldauf’s accidental selfies and the photo of Bob the dog were the cherry on the cake in proving who was operating those handles.
“But the organised crime gang went to enormous lengths, even rigging an auction, in a bid to transfer the drugs to Australian conspirators.
“The NCA works with partners at home and abroad to protect the public from the dangers of Class A drugs which wreak so much misery on communities in the UK.”
Colette Moore, Specialist Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service added: “This case involved a colossal quantity of MDMA, with an estimated street value of £44m, which posed a huge risk to the health and well-being of the Australian public.
“Organised criminals manufacture ecstasy and other synthetic drugs in dangerous illicit factories, so each individual tablet potentially poses a risk to life of those using it.
“Excellent work from the Australian authorities identified the drug concealment in the mechanical arm of an excavator arm and prevented its onward distribution. Collaborative international working with our Australian partners has resulted in the successful prosecution of the men who had exported these drugs to the Antipodes.”