Trio on trial over gun-smuggling plot

6 May 2010

Three Co Armagh men arrested following a two-year operation directed by "role-playing officers from the Security Services" yesterday went on trial in Belfast.

While no direct reference was made as to which branch of the "Security Services" was involved, Belfast Crown Court judge Mr Justice Hart was told at an earlier hearing the case involved an MI5 sting operation against the Real IRA.

Between them the trio - Paul Anthony John McCaugherty, 43, from Beech Court; Desmond Paul Kearns, 44, from Tannaghmore Green, both Lurgan; and 41-year-old Dermot Declan Gregory, aka Michael Dermot, from Concession Road in Crossmaglen - deny a total of seven charges.

McCaugherty faces all seven charges: conspiring to possess firearms and explosives and using almost 46,000 euro for terrorist purposes, membership of "The Irish Republican Army", and making the deeds of a Portuguese restaurant available for the purposes of terrorism.

Kearns is accused with him of conspiring to possess firearms and explosives, while Gregory is accused of making the deeds of the Alvor restaurant in Portugal available for the purposes of terrorism.

During his hour-long opening, prosecuting QC Gordon Kerr said the operation began in August 2004 and ended with the arrest of the trio in June 2006.

The operation, which the court previously heard related to what police believe was an international gun-smuggling operation, involved numerous meetings throughout Europe and even Istanbul in Turkey.

Various conversations during the multitude of meetings were secretly taped and in some cases even videoed. Again, at an earlier hearing, Mr Justice Hart was told that there were 90 hours of bugged conversations.

Mr Kerr said "the offences arise from an operation conducted with the Security Services, directed to disrupt the supply and flow of money to dissident republicans in Ireland".

Mr Kerr said it all began in August 2004 with the "focus of the operation" on Kearns, who at one stage allegedly took his wife Allison and two children to one of the clandestine meetings.

Mr Kerr said "the initial part of the operation commenced with a role player used by Security Services who was and will be referred to as Amir".

"He was assisted by a number of other operatives in particular his driver called Immran," he added.

The lawyer said that Amir, supplied with a photograph of Kearns, approached him with a deal to supply goods, in particular cheap cigarettes.

Over the coming months and year the two met, mainly in Irish bars in Amsterdam, Brussels and Bruges, where they discussed the purchase of cheap cigarettes.

However, by September 2005, Kearns allegedly agreed to meet with a friend of Amir's from Pakistan called Ali, who was also an undercover operative.

Kearns allegedly said the organisation had 100,000 euro, or dollars, to spend and during a discussion on Northern Ireland said, "they had to do something to re-start things".

Mr Kerr claimed that Kearns finally introduced McCaugherty to Ali, through Amir, after which he had no further dealings with Ali.

The lawyer said that McCaugherty met with Ali on a number of occasions, even travelling to Istanbul in Turkey to allegedly discuss the supply of arms and munitions and their transportation.

McCaugherty, who also allegedly handed over bundles of euros in a specially-adapted bag, said he needed "explosives, pistols, AK 47s, armour piercing stuff, snipers, cords and dets".

At one stage Ali said he could provide "1,000 kilo of explosives, detonators and cords, 20 AK 47s, 20 RPG 22s, 10 sniper rifles, 20 pistols with silencers, and the price was 104,000 euro".

Mr Kerr said that McCaugherty claimed his organisation had made the bomb used in Omagh, but they had given it to others who had "screwed it up".

The trial is expected to last up to five weeks. At hearing.

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