British agent tells Real IRA trial how he turned to Mafia for cash

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The Independent Online

A Dublin anti-terrorist court was yesterday regaled with tales of the Mafia, Augusto Pinochet and Manuel Noriega as it delved into the past of the trial's key witness.

David Rupert, the FBI and MI5 agent who is giving evidence against Michael McKevitt, reputed leader of the Real IRA, was subjected to cross-examination of his business career before becoming a spy.

Mr McKevitt, from Dundalk in Co Louth, faces charges of membership of an illegal organisation and of directing terrorism. He is the first person charged under legislation introduced after the 1998 Omagh bombing, in which 29 people died. Mr Rupert has already testified that Mr McKevitt confided many details of IRA activity to him.

Yesterday the Special Criminal Court was told that Mr Rupert had tried to recruit a senior Mafia figure in an effort to set up an off-shore casino that could be used to launder illegal money.

He also planned to use a man linked to the former dictators General Pinochet and Noriega to help secure financing from the Bank of Panama for a gambling boat moored off the coast of Florida.

Mr Rupert told the court that after a business failure he had the idea of setting up a new business based on having high-speed taxis jetting to and from a floating casino.

A neighbour put him in touch with a man called Diego Silva, the court was told. Rupert said: "Supposedly, he had been previously connected to General Augusto Pinochet from the government of Chile.

"He was also supposedly a friend to General Noriega. This was before the US considered General Noriega a bad guy. He felt he could bring the Bank of Panama on board."

Defence counsel put it to Mr Rupert that he had described another man involved as "a Mob lieutenant". Mr Rupert admitted he may have used the term.

Mr Rupert accepted that cash in the project, which never got off the ground, could have been earned illegally. He said: "Originally, we were going to have the Bank of Panama on board to deal with black money."

* The European Court of Human Rights will today give judgment in a case taken by Geraldine Finucane, widow of the murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. The controversial killing is to be the subject of other inquiries.