The Sinn Féin activists, the money lender and the £26m bank heist

By Fionnan Sheahan, Political Correspondent

SINN FÉIN is facing the biggest crisis in its history after two party activists were arrested in a garda swoop on suspects believed to be laundering some of the cash stolen in the Northern Bank raid.

Seven people were arrested and over £2.3m and €94,000 was seized in Cork and Dublin.

Up to 100 officers from the Criminal Assets Bureau, Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, Special Detective Unit and Crime and Security Section were involved in the arrests.

A former Sinn Féin councillor, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was one of those arrested.

Another Sinn Féin activist, George Hegarty from Douglas, Cork, was arrested after gardaí seized £60,000 in a raid on his home at 4 Donnybrook Cottages. Mr Hegarty is in his 50s.

A registered money lender, Ted Cunningham, 57, from Farran, Cork, and his partner, Cathy Armstrong, were also arrested and detained after £2.3m was recovered in a compost bin at the rear of their bungalow in Farran, Cork. The arrests took place at 11am yesterday morning after a 9am raid on Mr Cunningham's business premises in Ballincollig.

Opposition parties last night said the developments had serious consequences.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the arrests raised grave questions for the party: "In view of Sinn Féin's repeated denials of Sinn Féin or IRA involvement in any criminal activity, the leadership of Sinn Féin must make an immediate statement on this development and on its relationship with those involved."

Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte said the garda seizure of large amounts of money was an "astonishing development".

"Whilst we await more details to emerge, it is of extreme concern that the garda operation was specifically directed at IRA money laundering."

Describing the developments as "sensational", Defence Minister Willie O'Dea said the arrests and seizures were part of a longstanding garda investigation. The minister held back, though, from commenting on the potential political fallout at this stage.

DUP Assembly Member Ian Paisley Jnr claimed Sinn Féin and the IRA had been caught "red-handed" in a massive money laundering operation.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said he was aware of reports arrests and speculation that the police action was linked to the bank robbery.

"Sinn Féin's position on this robbery is clear," he said. "Over the last four weeks we have seen people rush to judgment time and time again. We would urge people to exercise caution on this occasion and allow the truth to come out."

The first of the arrests were made shortly after 4.30pm on Wednesday. Three men - two from Derry and one from Cork - were detained at Heuston station in Dublin. The Corkman was found carrying €94,000 in cash. The two men from Derry are believed to have strong republican links.

The man arrested in Passage West was last night being held at Togher garda station in Cork city under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act, while Mr Hegarty was detained at Mayfield Garda Station. Mr Cunningham and Ms Armstrong were being questioned at the Bridewell Garda Station in Cork. The three arrested in Dublin were being questioned at separate city stations.

All seven can be held for up to 72 hours.

There were also unconfirmed reports of garda raids in Dundalk. There were no arrests, but a number of documents were seized.

A spokeswoman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland insisted it was too early to link the seizure with the Northern Bank raid before Christmas.

"It is too early to say at this stage if any of the money found was connected to the Northern Bank robbery but both forces are in contact," she said

Clean sweep: seven arrests and £2.3m seized


4.30pm: Three men, two from Derry and one from Cork, arrested at Heuston station. The Corkman was found carrying €94,000 in cash. The two men from Derry have strong republican links.

9pm: Two men arrested in Cork - one in Passage West and the other in Douglas. George Hegarty, who is in his early 50s, was arrested at his home at Donnybrook Cottages, Douglas where £60,000 in Northern Bank notes was discovered. It's believed Mr Hegarty has links to Sinn Féin.

The man arrested in Passage West was last night being held at Togher Garda Station in Cork city. Mr Hegarty was detained at Mayfield Garda Station.


9am: A financial premises in Ballincollig, Co Cork, is raided by detectives who remove a number of files.

11am: Financier Ted Cunningham and his partner, Cathy Armstrong, were arrested at a house at Church View, Farran, nine miles west of Cork city. Gardaí discovered over £2.3 million (€3.2m) in cash.

Gardaí also secure a number of other premises across the city.

5pm: Local reports of garda raids in a number of premises in Dundalk. There were no arrests, but a number of documents were seized. However, the garda press office refused to comment.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?