Inside Christy Kinahan’s rise to become one of world’s deadliest narcos & secret way he made it happen from jail
- Published: 7:00, 3 May 2023
- Updated: 7:42, 3 May 2023
CHRISTY Kinahan was one of the first Irish prisoners to get his own computer — and used it to brush up on the skills that would make him one of the world’s deadliest narco-terrorists.
A new podcast from The Irish Sun delves into the Kinahan cartel’s 40-year history of mayhem and murder, following gang patriarch Christy ‘Dapper Don’ Snr’s rise from low-level criminal to head of a €1billion drugs empire.
Speaking to The Kinahans — hosted by veteran journalist Damien Lane — retired prison officer David McDonald looks back at Christy’s time in prison during the 1990s.
And he tells how Kinahan used his spell behind bars to educate himself on subjects that would help him advance his criminal career.
After being locked up for four years in Portlaoise Prison following a National Building Society raid in Drumcondra, Dublin, in June 1993, he turned his attention to further education, taking up courses in both Spanish and Russian.
Mr McDonald recalled: “He was one of the first prisoners that ever got a standalone computer.
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“So we’re talking about a time when the internet didn’t really exist. It was only very, very new coming into society.”
The former warden added: “He was different looking back on it, he was a bit head and shoulders above the other prisoners.
“I’m not saying he’s a nice guy, I’m not saying this to compliment him. But he used his time cleverly and, it’s almost like he had a plan and he was going to execute it.
“So he seemed to pick things like Spanish as a language and I think it’s pretty well documented at this stage that he would have spent quite a lot of time in Spain.
“But he had educated himself with the ways of the world in a way that no one else did.”
Kinahan even managed to smuggle a huge mobile phone into the Laois prison, which he hooked up to the computer and in turn the internet.
However, the tech was so new at the time that jail chiefs weren’t aware he could use it to keep in touch with John Cunningham, his right-hand man who he met during a stint in Dublin’s Mountjoy in 1986.
Cunningham had been serving a 17-year sentence for the kidnapping of Jennifer Guinness, a member of the Guinness brewing dynasty.
Mr McDonald said: “He [Christy] got a mobile phone smuggled in, which would have been a feat in itself because back then those phones were quite large.
“He rigged the phone up to the computer, which gave him internet access, and I don’t think anyone ever did that before.”
Christy’s Portaloise prison stint in the 1990s came after he was arrested while attending his father’s funeral.
Following the 1993 raid, Christy had fled to the Netherlands as he didn’t want to be caged again.
However, when his dad Daniel died suddenly in 1997, Christy was keen on returning to Dublin for the funeral despite an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
Little did he know, the Gardai had been told of the death and decided to keep watch in case Christy came home to say a final farewell.
As the funeral procession arrived at Sutton church, Christy was spotted standing outside with the rest of the crowd. Two uniformed cops approached him with the outstanding warrant.
Former Garda Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan told the podcast — currently the top show on Apple Podcasts — how he was tasked with questioning the fugitive.
And he said Christy wasted no time in making efforts to intimidate him by recounting how he had followed him one night while he was out for a run in Dublin 3.
But little did he realise that the top cop had noticed Kinahan immediately and had made a record of the incident.
Mr O’Sullivan recalled: “I was interviewing him. And he said to me, he said, ‘You think you’re so smart.’ He said, ‘I followed you one night.’ He didn’t say it that politely. So I said to him, ‘I know’.”
Christy was even more put out when Michael was able to recount the registration plate of the white car he had been driving.
Mr O’Sullivan said of the creepy incident: “That’s the cat and mouse game that goes on between law enforcement and criminals. And it happens throughout everybody’s career and most people’s career.”
After landing back in prison, Christy continued to hatch plans, knowing that there was huge money coming in from Cunningham’s operation in Amsterdam.
A year previous to this, Cunningham had absconded from Shelton Abbey open prison in Co Wicklow. He was ten years into his 17-year sentence.
Using a fake passport, he travelled to Amsterdam, where he reconnected with Christy.
Cunningham quickly learnt the ins and outs of The Kinahan Organised Crime Group, which would come in handy when he took over the running of operations while Christy served his four-year sentence.
The Irish Sun’s Crime Editor Stephen Breen said: “Christy Kinahan could place his trust in John Cunningham because they went back a long time.
“They knew each other very well, and he was effectively Kinahan’s right-hand man, and he played a central role in establishing the empire.”
All seemed to be going well for the cartel until, in December 1998, in a warehouse in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, a forklift operator unloading a crate of Pitta bread from Amsterdam smashed the pallet onto the floor and made a shocking discovery.
Inside was an arsenal of over 15 automatic pistols and 800kg of cannabis.
Unfortunately for John Cunningham, he had been using the same individual who had laundered his Punts into (Dutch currency) Guilders to process the cartel’s shipment, and his name was on the paperwork.
Owen Conlon, co-author of The Cartel, a book about the Kinahan gang, told the podcast: “So the guards informed their Dutch colleagues, a surveillance operation was launched, and the Dutch decided to tap both Cunningham’s home phone and a phone box nearby his luxurious house.”
They discovered he had been making a number of phone calls to Christy Kinahan from inside Portlaoise prison.
Conlon added: “They were talking about drugs in code. They used to call amphetamines, wallpaper. And they talked about bread, which meant cannabis.
“But the Dutch called in cryptographers. Code-breakers from their military. And once they came in, I mean, it was pretty easily figured out what they were actually talking about.”
In March 2000, police made their move on Cunningham’s mansion in south Amsterdam.
They discovered a ledger in his house which indicated about €31 million worth of cannabis and ecstasy had been sent back to Ireland after he took over from Christy Kinahan.
Cunningham was sentenced to 7 years in prison.
But once again, the timing worked out as one month later, Christy got the news that he was being released from Portlaoise.
He walked free in mid-2001 and moved to Belgium. This is believed to be when the gang first got serious about money laundering.
Over three years, Christy began to invest in local property, including a local casino and a handful of residential buildings.
Conlon said: “Again, he began to come through to the attention of the authorities in Belgium for one reason or another. And they began to investigate his assets.”
This investigation led to Christy making one of the most influential decisions of his life, moving to Spain.
It was while the gang was based in Spain that the feud with the Hutch gang began, which kickstarted after the murder of Gary Hutch.
Once Daniel Kinahan’s best pal, the pair’s falling out over cash would eventually culminate in 18 lives lost to the deadly feud.
The Kinahans is available on Spotify, Apple and other popular podcast platforms, with one episode released weekly.