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Dublin: 14°C Friday 19 August 2022

Gardaí probe Bulgarian smuggling routes after CAB raids in Monaghan

Yesterday’s searches were carried on foot of district court warrants.

One of the seized trucks.
One of the seized trucks.
Image: Garda Press Office

GARDAÍ HAVE LAUNCHED a crackdown on haulage companies operating in the border region as officers turn their attention to Bulgarian smuggling routes believed to be used by criminals to bring illicit contraband into Ireland.

Yesterday, gardaí confirmed that a significant number of searches had been conducted  in the Monaghan area by CAB and that a number of vehicles and documentation had been seized.

Yesterday’s searches were carried on foot of district court warrants issued pursuant to Section 14 of the Criminal Assets Bureau Acts 1996 to 2016 at 10 separate search sites.

These raids were not part of the investigation into the Essex trailer tragedy, gardaí said. However, officers did receive significant information regarding alleged illegal smuggling operations which were happening across the border region around two week ago. 

Sources familiar with the investigation have told that the “significant information” has been given to gardaí and the PSNI relating to illegal trading from Bulgarian registered vehicles and the Irish market. 

As part of yesterday’s investigation, gardaí said a Bulgarian registered tractor unit and a curtain-side trailer were detained by CAB. A curtain side trailer is one which uses a tarp or curtain to conceal the load which can easily be moved out of the way, providing ready access to the trailer for loading cargo. 

Around 20 bank accounts with over €200k were also seized in the raids.

During the searches at seven homes and three yards, CAB officers seized: 

  • 192 (2019) X5 BMW M Sport
  • 2016 X5 BMW
  • 2014 VW Transporter Crew Cab 2.8 litre
  • Mitsubishi shotgun
  • Documents and records
  • Electronic devices
  • Cash (€1,400, $900 USD and £600).

Gardaí said the investigation has been ongoing for the past year, but intensified over the last two weeks.

As part of the operation, CAB detained a Northern Ireland registered tractor unit and curtain sider trailer at Dublin Port last Tuesday. 

Bulgarian link

Gardaí have long held suspicions of Bulgarian registered vehicles operating in Ireland. The reason behind this is that many of these vehicles, most registered in eastern Varna region of Bulgaria, are linked to illegal smuggling in Ireland and the UK. 

Varna itself has long been a smuggling stronghold of dissident republicans as well as loyalists. The city and its environs have been used in the past by smuggling gangs who import cigarettes and fuel. 

Gardaí and the PSNI continue to liaise with their Bulgarian counterparts in relation to smuggling matters. 

Yesterday’s searches related to the activities of one family operating in the region. They have companies spanning across Ireland, north and south, as well as in Bulgaria. 

Speaking in the aftermath of the Essex tragedy, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said more must be done to “tighten up” the registration of vehicles in Ireland. 

He said: “My understanding is that it’s quite common for Irish companies to register their trucking companies in other jurisdictions. I believe we need to look at that.

“I believe it’s important that there’s no opportunity for any activity of an acceptable nature regarding the registration of trucks,” he said.

It is quite common to see Irish trucking companies with their fleet having registration plates in Eastern Europe in particular. And I believe there’s something that we need to look at with a view towards tightening up the situation.

“I don’t know the reasons why an Irish trucking company would cite their headquarters in an Eastern European state and I believe those who do that probably need to state the reasons why.”

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More work will be carried out by officers in relation to the Bulgarian link in coming weeks. 

No arrests were made by officers but investigations are continuing.

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