Cocaine seized on cargo ship off Cork likely supplied by Colombia’s Clan del Golfo cartel

Cocaine seized on cargo ship off Cork likely supplied by Colombia’s Clan del Golfo cartel

The largest ever haul of cocaine seized in the Republic was probably supplied by the Clan del Golfo cartel in Colombia, garda sources believe.

American law enforcement this week said the Clan del Golfo cartel was “one of Colombia’s largest criminal enterprises responsible for the majority of the cocaine production and trafficking in Colombia”.

Gardaí suspect the smuggling of the 2.2-tonne haul into Europe, which was foiled by the Irish authorities from Sunday night to Tuesday afternoon, was intended to deliver multiple consignments to crime gangs all over Europe. It is suspected that only a portion of the haul was intended for the Irish market.

Sources told The Irish Times that international intelligence pointed to the Kinahan cartel having “a stake” in the drugs, possibly after having helped finance its purchase. However, gardaí suspect other Irish crime gangs were intended recipients of some of the €150-million haul.

The same sources said the ship’s full cargo of cocaine was much too big for the Irish market, even though the demand for the drug was currently very high due to the strong economic conditions in the Republic. “When you get a consignment like this, you have to unload it, store it and also cut and mix it,” said one source. “When you mix it, two tonnes might become six tonnes and the Irish market wouldn’t be big enough for that.”

Others added such a large quantity of cocaine would take so long to sell in Ireland that it would result in large quantities of the drug being stored for a long period, increasing the risk of detection. The sources added that large Irish gangs generally took receipt of drugs in quantities they knew they could supply to several smaller groups immediately after taking delivery of it.

Last night the Castlemore fishing vessel – which was to be used to land the drugs in Ireland – remained stranded on the Money Weights sandbank off Wexford. Bad weather prevented Customs Officers boarding on Wednesday to establish whether any cocaine was on the 15m vessel. Further attempts to board the trawler are expected to be made over the weekend.

On Tuesday, the same day Army Rangers fast-roped from Air Corps helicopters on to the deck of the MV Matthew in the sea off east Cork, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) imposed financial sanctions on senior Colombian and Mexican cartel leaders.

One of those was Colombian Jobanis de Jesus Avila Villadiego, the new leader of Clan del Golfo suspected of being the source of the cocaine on the MV Matthew. Ofac is the same agency that imposed financial sanctions on the Kinahan cartel’s leaders last year.

The MV Matthew remained in Cork on Wednesday night, undergoing examination as gardaí continued to question seven men, the latest of whom was arrested on Thursday. Two of the seven – a Scotsman (60) and Ukrainian (30) – were arrested in the early hours of Monday morning after being winched from the Castlemore trawler than ran aground about 12km off the coast of Co Wexford.

Gardaí believe that boat, bought in Co Cork last week, was to be used to take delivery at sea of some or all of the cocaine on the MV Matthew. As well as the two men on that boat, five others – who were all on the MV Matthew bulk cargo ship – were also being questioned last night.

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The latest of those arrested, a 48-year-old Dutch national, was detained by gardaí on board the MV Matthew and taken to Mallow Garda Station, where he was being held under Section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act. Others detained are from Ukraine and Iran, including the ship’s captain. An Iranian man, who was airlifted from the MV Matthew last Monday before it was seized, claimed he was ill and injured from a fall. He was found to be in possession of €100,000 in cash when he was airlifted off the vessel.

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