Suspected head of global crime empire is arrested in Spain

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The suspected head of a global criminal empire was arrested yesterday at a mansion in Spain as security chiefs claimed a vast international drugs, guns and money laundering racket had been wound up.

Christy Kinahan was detained with his two sons on the Costa del Sol as authorities in Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe moved in on his known associates. The 53-year-old, born in Britain but brought up in Dublin, is alleged to be the head of a £200m crime network which traded in drugs and guns, and was involved in money laundering. The Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) and Irish authorities described his criminal operations as "prolific".

Trevor Pearce, Soca executive director, said: "We believe this network has been offering a global investment service, ploughing hundreds of millions of pounds of dirty cash into offshore accounts, companies and property on behalf of criminals. Kinahan's suspected right-hand man, John Cunningham, who was convicted over the 1986 kidnap of heiress Jennifer Guinness in Ireland, was arrested along with at least two dozen others.

Four lawyers were detained in Spain as part of Operation Shovel as police recovered false passports and €60,000 (£51,232) in cash, seized computers and 20 luxury cars – some from the €6m (£5.2m) mansion where Kinahan was holed up near Malaga, an area of the Costas notorious for links to crime. The next move could see scores of bank accounts frozen. Raids were also carried out in Belgium, Cyprus and Brazil. Kinahan can be held in Spain for about one year without charge as an investigating judge examines the case against him.

In the UK, about 230 officers arrested nine men and two women as they searched business and residential premises in London, the Thames Valley, Kent and the West Midlands. Firearms and £70,000 were recovered. Five Britons were detained in Spain and in Ireland one man was arrested after 29 searches on homes and businesses in Dublin and neighbouring Co Meath.

A senior security source in the two-year investigation warned: "The impact of the gang has been felt harder in the UK. Most of the drugs and the guns have been hitting the gangs in British cities."

Despite his strong Irish links, officials said Kinahan preferred to use a British passport in order to travel more freely across Europe. UK authorities said European police had dealt a major blow to a gangland operation, considered to be the number one crime gang operating out of Spain.

Kinahan, a top target for the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), Ireland's An Garda Siochana security services and Europol, has been in Spain for several years. It is understood he kept a low profile while amassing a multi-million euro property portfolio in Spain and the UK.