Suspicion falls on big-league gambler

Guerin murder inquiry: Millionaire issues public denial as police turn up heat in hunt for killer of Irish investigative reporter
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Detectives have taken away a large quantity of documents from the home of a man who admits he is a prime suspect in the investigation into the murder last month of the crime journalist, Veronica Guerin.

John Gilligan, 44, is in Amsterdam, where he went in the same week that the 36-year-old reporter with the Sunday Independent was shot in an apparent contract killing by two men on a motorcycle.

In an interview following the shooting, Mr Gilligan, a millionaire with a large home and equestrian centre held in his wife's name in Co Kildare, admitted he was the chief suspect but denied any involvement in the murder and claimed he was being set up.

Mr Gilligan, who has a son, 20, and a daughter, 21, admitted having threatened to kill Ms Guerin and warned her he would kidnap and rape her young son if she did not cease her inquiries into his activities. He claimed he never meant the threat to kill the award-winning journalist. "I was angry. I thought it might make her leave me and my family alone," he told the Sunday Tribune.

With an extensive criminal record ranging from theft to receiving stolen goods and assault, Mr Gilligan claimed he earned his income from gambling and denies being a major drug dealer, though he does admit having numerous criminal convictions. He also denies allegations that he assaulted Ms Guerin when she tried to interview him in September 1995.

Mr Gilligan denied Irish media suggestions that the numerous cheques he received from bookmakers were derived from laundering the proceeds of ecstasy, cannabis and tobacco smuggling through gambling.

Irish newspapers claim bookmakers' shops received an average of Irpounds 30,000 (pounds 31,500) a week from Mr Gilligan in bets on short-odds favourites, with a single west Dublin outlet taking Irpounds 1.2m in bets from him in two years. Since the media spotlight fell on Mr Gilligan, staff have left the family's equestrian centre and it is no longer trading.

The murder of Ms Guerin was the latest in a wave of 12 unsolved contract- type shootings in Dublin in the last two years. The shooting prompted national outrage amid claims that powerful drug barons were now beyond the reach of the law. Ms Guerin's employer, the Dublin-based media group Independent Newspapers, has offered a Irpounds 100,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of her killers.

The public reaction prompted the Irish government to hold a special summer session of the Dail last week to pass five emergency crime Bills targeting the assets of major crime figures, alongside new measures to reduce court delays and reduce the shortage of prison accommodation which has led to widespread early releases.

Less than a week before the shooting, the Taoiseach, John Bruton, told a international crime conference in Dublin that domestic policing resources in the Republic had been seriously weakened by the security demands of combating the armed campaigns of paramilitary organisations in the Northern Ireland conflict.

While the main focus in the investigation into the Guerin killing has focused on Mr Gilligan, gardai have emphasised that they are not closing other lines of inquiry, given the number of criminals that the reporter had investigated. These included all 12 of the main organised crime gangs in the Irish capital, with activities ranging from drug dealing to armed robbery.

Last weekend, six men, including two brothers, from Dublin, Kildare and Tipperary were released after questioning about a crime uncovered during the Guerin investigation. Searches at a number of addresses led to the seizure of Irpounds 50,000 in cash. Inquiries are continuing, though gardai stress there is no direct connection with the murder.

Earlier this month, a Dublin garage owner John Traynor won an injunction preventing the Sunday Independent from publishing a report based on Ms Guerin's investigations.

t A Tipperary farmer, Joseph Kenny from Fancroft, Roscrea, who was the subject of repeated investigation by Ms Guerin, was yesterday ordered by the Dublin High Court to pay back Irpounds 22.8m to the beef trader Larry Goodman and three meat firms.

Mr Goodman had complained of fraud after the money - lent in March 1990, covered by a promissory note and due for repayment in June 1990 - passed in part to a South African Cypriot.

The court will consider the issue of interest arising from the debt and a possible Supreme Court appeal application by Mr Kenny on 28 August.