Cocaine, gold and money laundering – Irish cartel’s ‘fingerprints’ lifted in SA

Cocaine, gold and money laundering – Irish cartel’s ‘fingerprints’ lifted in SA
The reward posters for suspected members of the alleged Kinahan cartel, as published by the US Department of State.

The US views the Kinahan cartel, on which it imposed sanctions last year, as ‘a murderous organisation involved in trafficking drugs and firearms’. The group has ties to South Africa.

An international Irish-origin drug trafficking and money laundering cartel, with links to the boxing industry, may be operating via South Africa.

While South African authorities have not publicly flagged the so-called Kinahan cartel as active in the country, Daily Maverick has established it probably is.

Daily Maverick can reveal that details in an Irish court judgment, from February this year, show that sisters of an alleged senior Kinahan cartel member previously travelled to various countries, including South Africa.

Curiously, in that case relating to the proceeds of crime, it was found they did not have the resources for such travel yet managed several international trips – it remains unclear why they visited South Africa.

Cocaine crackdowns

It is also understood, based on information from a source who is familiar with the Kinahan group’s operations, its activities in South Africa involve gold and illicit tobacco dealing, as well as cocaine trafficking.

A recent drug interception linked to South Africa could be part of Kinahan dealings; however, the Hawks were not yet prepared to comment on that.

Other pieces of information hint at the Kinahan cartel links extending to South Africa.

This includes a European police crackdown on a “super cartel” late last year that touched on Durban, where global traffickers use the harbour.

About a week ago South African police intercepted a vessel near the Port of Durban – it travelled there from Brazil and R70-million cocaine was discovered on it.

That crackdown resulted in a second interception of R80-million worth of  cocaine that was found at King Shaka International Airport.

Investigations into who is behind the consignments are ongoing, with national police commissioner Fannie Masemola saying cops were “disrupting and dismantling transnational organised crime”.

Gold suspicions

Bolstering information about Kinahan activities in South Africa, is a story  in the Times (UK) on 15 October 2023 reporting that associates of the group “used a small army of helpers to buy gold from dealers in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique”.

The gold, it reported, was transported, either via Harare in Zimbabwe or Johannesburg, to Dubai, where it was sold and the proceeds “laundered and recycled back to fund more European activities”.

Daily Maverick has previously detailed how South Africa is a key transit point for gold smugglers wanting to channel the precious metal to and from Dubai.

Meanwhile, the US’s Department of the Treasury previously said the Kinahan cartel often used Dubai “as a facilitation hub for its illicit activities”.

Money laundering and murders

In April 2022 the US imposed sanctions on some of the group’s alleged members.

The US’s Department of the Treasury said that Christopher Vincent Kinahan Senior, who served jail time in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Belgium, for crimes including money laundering and drugs, had effectively started the group.

His sons Daniel Kinahan and Christopher Jr, it alleged, managed his drug trafficking operations.

“[The Kinahan group] emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the most powerful organised crime group operating in Ireland,” the US treasury statement said.

 “Since then, Irish courts have concluded that [it] is a murderous organisation involved in the international trafficking of drugs and firearms.”

It was alleged the group was involved in global money laundering.

Dublin hotel shooting

In April 2022 the US Department of State also issued rewards of up to $5-million each for information leading up to the arrests or convictions of Christopher Kinahan and his two sons.

A reward flyer about this said the cartel “gained notoriety” in 2016 when a feud with its rivals, the Hutch drug trafficking gang, resulted in a shooting in a Dublin hotel.

“The brazen daytime attack targeted Daniel Kinahan during a weigh-in for an MTK Global (formerly MGM) boxing match and shocked the Irish public,” the flyer said.

“Although Daniel escaped unharmed, the subsequent and ongoing feud has resulted in 18 homicides, encompassing nearly all members or relatives and associates of the Hutch gang.”

‘Unfair scrutiny’

MTK Global was a boxing and event promotions company and had a division in Africa that started in 2019.

That division had links to South Africa, including that it represented a now-former boxer from this country.

MTK Global shut down in April 2022 after the US announced sanctions against the Kinahans.

A statement on MTK Global’s Instagram account at the time said: “As a business we have faced unprecedented levels of unfair scrutiny and criticism since the sanctioning by the US Government of Daniel Joseph Kinahan.

“It is a matter of public record that Mr Kinahan’s involvement in MTK ceased in 2017, and despite repeated reassurances in this regard, unfounded allegations about his ongoing association with us and our fighters persist.”

The statement said leading promoters planned to sever ties with MTK Global and so it decided to shut down.

SA properties and visits

The Kinahan group, meanwhile, is suspected of owning properties in countries including South Africa.

An Irish Independent article from 2020 stated: “They owned six tourist developments worth around €500m in Brazil, as well as other properties and businesses in Ireland, England, Belgium, Cyprus, South Africa and Dubai.”

A February 2023 High Court of Ireland judgment also references the Kinahan cartel and this country.

It was against individuals including alleged senior Kinahan cartel member Ross Browning and his sisters Cheryl and Robyn.

The judgment said the sisters, who did not have the financial means to do so, both travelled to “the United States of America, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa”.

That was around 2016.

Meanwhile, Cheryl Browning, according to the judgment, had also visited Malaga in Spain “many times between 2013 and 2018”.

Vodka as a front

Spain is another country the Kinahan cartel is tied to.

In September last year, the UK’s National Crime Agency announced that a suspected Kinahan money launderer, from Ireland, was arrested in Spain.

“Spanish investigators believe the organised crime group registered companies in the UK, Gibraltar and Spain to present a legitimate image,” it said.

“They created a brand of vodka promoted in nightclubs and restaurants across the Costa Del Sol to disguise their earnings.”

Cops involved in that crackdown were from countries including the Netherlands.

At the start of this year Daily Maverick reported on a major global cartel takedown that was said to control a third of Europe’s cocaine trade.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Busted – a global ‘super cartel’, encrypted message crackdown and cocaine trails to Durban

Part of that crackdown had involved the Netherlands arresting Edin “Tito” Gacanin, who was born in Bosnia.

Dutch cops, Durban and Dubai

A November 2022 Dutch police statement, without naming him, said Gacanin was detained in Dubai on suspicion of importing mass cocaine consignments.

The statement said the interception of encrypted messages resulted in his arrest.

“It is also suspected that the man was involved as organiser, broker and financier in the import of 739.5 kilos of cocaine from Durban (South Africa) to Rotterdam,” the Dutch police statement said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Dubye to justice – alleged drug kingpin wanted by the Dutch also freed in Gupta-style UAE extradition saga

In April this year Daily Maverick reported that the Netherlands had wanted to extradite Gacanin from Dubai, but he was instead freed while there.

A month earlier the US had designated him and described him as “one of the world’s most prolific drug traffickers”.

That US Department of the Treasury statement said: “Gacanin is the leader of the Tito and Dino Cartel…

“In addition to narcotics trafficking … Gacanin’s cartel is involved in money laundering and is closely linked to the Kinahan Organized Crime Group.”

The allegations from the Netherlands and the US suggest that Gacanin, with suspected Kinahan cartel links, sourced cocaine via Durban. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

P1. Front page. 28 October 2023


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Poor policing, porous borders and corruption are turning / have turned S.A. into Crime Central. Does the government care? Do they have a clue as to how to deal with it?

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

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