Irish Gangs Met with the Sinaloa Cartel to Introduce Fentanyl to Europe

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Irish criminal networks have traveled with other European gangs to discuss the supply of the lethal synthetic opiate, fentanyl, into the Irish and European markets, it has emerged. This is likely in response to the shortage of heroin in Europe due to crackdowns by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The group of European traffickers engaged with Mexican Cartels, including the Sinaloa cartel, who are leaders in the production and supply of fentanyl into the US market. They currently coordinate shipments of cocaine and meth to various parts of Europe.

A long-running West Dublin trafficking outfit, which has dominated the supply of heroin into Ireland for many decades, is considered the most significant Irish organized crime group involved in this endeavor.

Taliban’s Crackdown on Opium

Irish and European experts are concerned that the Taliban’s crackdown on the production of opium, and therefore heroin in Afghanistan, may result in criminals turning to synthetic opiates, including fentanyl, to fill the market. These synthetic versions are far more potent than heroin. Fentanyl was first detected in Ireland in 2016 and 2017 but is not considered widespread. Ireland recorded 409 overdose deaths in 2020. While the population difference in the United States is vastly greater, the US reported over 100,000 in that same year, with nearly 75% being caused by opioid overdoses.

The crackdown and restriction on growing opium there, since the Taliban’s restoration in August 2021 is being blamed in the UK for a gap in the market, which drug agencies say is being filled by synthetic opiates. Around 95-95% of the UK’s heroin originates in Afghanistan.

British organization Cranstoun published a report this week highlighting “emerging accounts of nitazenes, a potent opioid similar to fentanyl, around 30 to 500 times more potent than heroin, is contaminating the UK’s heroin supply”.

Senior gardaí Chief Supt Seamus Boland told the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use that fentanyl ‘is a risk to all drugs consumers, as cartels can add fentanyl to other drugs to increase addiction, thereby increasing customer base’. “We are satisfied that Irish criminal networks have been considering the supply of fentanyl into the Irish market,” he said.
Chief Supt Boland also told the assembly that Irish criminal networks discussed a number of years ago investing in the emerging legal market for cannabis in Europe.

“In 2019 Irish criminal groups discussed the move to the legalization of cannabis in certain jurisdictions and the potential for increased numbers of countries to follow this route,” he said. “They planned to invest €30 million into the global legal cannabis industry.”

Irish Gardai Cooperation with Colombian Police

Gardaí are to enter into a cooperation agreement with Colombian police in a bid to crack down on drug gangs.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee is to seek approval from the Government in the coming weeks to allow the special arrangement between the two police forces. Drew Harris visited Colombia earlier this year and met the leader of Colombia’s National Police, the country’s deputy defense minister, and the Mexican military attaché.

Despite the successes that gardaí and international police forces have had against the Kinahan crime group, the organization still has deep connections with Columbian cartels. In 2020, the Government sanctioned a three-year expansion plan for the Garda Liaison Officer Network.

It saw two new regional garda liaison posts created in Washington D.C. and in Bogotá, Colombia, based in the Irish embassies. The government has also approved the expansion of the Garda Liaison Officer Network to Bangkok and Abu Dhabi, two places where many drug traffickers have made their base to help skirt law enforcement in their home countries.

Irish Garda Commissioner Visits Dubai

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris traveled to meet police in Dubai to discuss the Kinahan gang. In a statement, An Garda Síochána said Commissioner Harris and senior garda officers regularly liaise and work with international law enforcement partners to disrupt and dismantle organized crime gangs. This has included the Commissioner traveling to the US, Colombia, and Europe as part of this work.

Kinahan Cartel Franchise Models

The Kinahan Cartel has taken a stake in major drug deals being conducted by domestic crime gangs in exchange for assisting them in importing large consignments of narcotics into the Irish Republic, according to gardaí.

The Irish Times learned that the cartel’s franchisee system, which has been in operation for several years, offers an option for criminal gangs to use the Kinahans’ contacts and infrastructure when importing drugs into Ireland. 

It is also believed that so-called franchisees have been used in recent years by the cartel to take receipt of drugs on a consignment-by-consignment basis. They were responsible for receiving and distributing the drugs in Ireland. Many of those involved had no record of organized crime.

Garda officers say the cartel has changed its business model and has been using freelancers, or franchisees, after its long-standing drugs distribution group in Ireland, the Byrne Organised Crime Group, was dismantled amid the Garda crackdown that followed the escalation of the Kinahan-Hutch feud.

David Byrne was the sole death that occurred during the infamous Regency Hotel shooting in Dublin, Ireland in 2016. Liam Byrne, his younger brother has operated the network since, until his recent arrest in Spain on a United Kingdom extradition warrant on gun charges on June 4, 2023. He had travelled to Majorca, Spain from Dubai to meet family.

Garda sources believe the Kinahan Cartel is now “taking a cut” of bigger drug imports, often valued at €5 to €10 million, when they are being smuggled into Ireland. It is offering Irish gangs or franchisees, “the use of contacts, trusted routes” and is being paid a percentage of each major consignment brought in using its channels. The arrangement includes controls that ensure these contacts cannot be poached, sources said.
The second wave of the franchisee system now involves piggybacking on the Kinahans’ infrastructure and know-how for a fee, though gardaí said this created extra risk for the cartel. “The more people you bring into your operation, the weaker it becomes,” said one source regarding the franchisee model.

He added the involvement of so many people, especially those with no proven record of loyalty, created “opportunities” for the Garda and international law enforcement “to gather intelligence” and disrupt the chain of supply.