The Kinahan cartel has taken a stake in major drug deals being conducted by domestic crime gangs in exchange for assisting them to import large consignments of narcotics into the Republic, according to gardaí.
The Irish Times has 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 the State.
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.
News of the latest moves by the cartel to reinvent itself in Ireland, in the face of major international policing investigations, comes as current and former senior Garda officers cautioned at the weekend against any relaxation of the State’s drugs laws.
Det Chief Supt Séamus Boland, of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, told a meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use in Dublin that decriminalisation would not have the desired effect of impoverishing criminal networks.
Drugs gangs would, he said, introduce new products to maintain profits in the face of any legislative changes that might be made to affect their operating models.
“We’re satisfied that Irish criminal networks have been considering the supply of fentanyl into the Irish market,” he said in reference to the synthetic opioid that has devastated large parts of the US, describing it as “a very concerning development”.
The former head of the Garda drug squad, retired assistant commissioner Michael O’Sullivan, told the assembly that following legislative changes made in Portugal, where drugs were decriminalised years ago, would not work in Ireland.
Those who controlled the drugs trade in Ireland were “criminal lunatics at times”, he said, and much more violent than gangs operating in Portugal. He also believed that “very often it is the fear of the courts or the fear of the guards” that deters people in Ireland from getting involved with or taking drugs.
Garda sources believe the Kinahan cartel is now “taking a cut” of bigger drugs consignments, often valued at €5-€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 ensuring contacts could not be poached, sources said.
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 in organised crime. 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.