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'Cannabis clubs' operating in Spain linked to John Gilligan drug trafficking gang

Gilligan was arrested in Spain last month.

Image: Policia Nacional

CANNABIS CLUBS BASED in Spain are suspected of helping to facilitate money laundering as well as drug trafficking by a gang being led by John Gilligan, TheJournal.ie has learned. 

Loose cannabis laws have allowed hundreds of such clubs, which operate as private members clubs, to open in Spain. People can join and then legally buy and consume the drug on site. 

Members have to sign up to the club and there are usually limits to the amounts any one person can buy at one time. Patrons of the clubs are urged to use the cannabis on the premises but people are allowed to leave the premises with it. 

In most cases, a new member will have to be recommended by a current member. Spanish doctors can also write to a club on behalf of a patient if the medic believes cannabis could help their patient’s health. 

Many clubs market themselves along the lines of the kind of shisha bars or cafes usually found in Amsterdam. 

Possession of cannabis for personal use is not a criminal offence in Spain. However, the legal grey areas that have allowed venues like cannabis clubs operate have also allowed criminals, including Irish gangland figures, to use these clubs as a way to launder money. 

They also use the clubs as cover in order to grow plants, which are then vacuum-packed and shipped into Ireland, the UK and elsewhere in Europe using postal systems. 

The Spanish police, along with the UK’s National Crime Agency and gardaí have been following Gilligan in recent years as he attempted to regrow the cannabis empire which saw him locked up in an Irish prison for 17 years. 

He was originally jailed for 28 years for the trafficking of commercial quantities of cannabis resin. This was reduced to 20 years on appeal.

While in prison in 2002, Gilligan was tried and later acquitted of the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin. 

In March 2014, just five months after his release from prison, Gilligan survived an attempt on his life. He was shot five times in his brother’s house in Clondalkin. He fled the country the same month. 

One man who is suspected of helping launder his money is an Irish man with business links to at least three of these cannabis clubs.

Money was being pumped into the legitimate operations and then taken out at a reduced rate to make it look like purchases of cannabis had been made at the clubs, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Senior detectives in Spain have long believed that mafia-type gangs have been using the cannabis clubs as fronts. 

According to Ramon Chacon, deputy chief of Catalonia’s crime squad, criminals have been exploiting legal grey areas like this for their own gain. 

He told the Observer newspaper earlier this year that Spain’s cannabis clubs are being abused by criminals on a regular basis. 

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The Irish man believed to be helping Gilligan is a member of the so-called Gucci Gang whose leader is based in Finglas, north Dublin. The gang itself is seen by gardaí as a “sub-cell” of the Kinahan cartel. The sub-cells were created to ensure no one member could have the requisite information to make any form of deal with authorities should they wish to become an informant.

Gilligan and his associates were raided by the Spanish police last month. Spanish police have alleged that the Irish criminal is involved in drug and firearm trafficking.  Four kilos of cannabis and 15,000 pills were seized by the police as part of the operation.

Spanish police believe he has been involved in the drug trade there ever since he left Ireland three years ago. 

In a statement, Spanish police said: “Those arrested, led by a well-known Irish criminal, were part of a violent group of drug and arms traffickers and specialised in sending illegal merchandise from Spain to the United Kingdom and Ireland through parcels.”

Police started their investigation last year after it was discovered the suspects had settled in the Torrevieja area of Spain.

Gilligan was arrested in October last year after he was stopped at Belfast International Airport with €22,280 in cash, as he was about to board a flight to Alicante in Spain. The case was later dismissed. 

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