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Gangster John Gilligan (70) ordered to stand trial today on drugs and weapons charges in Spain

Authorities have warned criminal he faces more than eight years in jail

John Gilligan

John Gilligan in handcuffs following his arrest in Spain. Picture: Solarpix

Spanish police picture of the arrest of John Gilligan. Photo: Solarpix

Gerard CouzensIndependent.ie

Irish gangster John Gilligan has been ordered to stand trial later on Tuesday in Spain on drugs and weapons charges.

The convicted drug dealer, prosecuted over the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, has been warned he faces more than eight years in jail if convicted.

State prosecutors demanded an 18-month prison sentence for unlawful weapons possession after a gun Spanish police linked to the Irish crime reporter’s 1996 assassination was found hidden in the back garden of Gilligan’s Costa Blanca home.

Detectives said when he was arrested in October 2020 the gun was the “same make and model” as the one used to kill Guerin in an ambush at a red light on the outskirts of Dublin in June 1996.

But Spanish state prosecutors went on to describe it as a Colt Defender and not the rare Colt Python .357 Magnum police identified it as immediately after the Gilligan detention.

The 70-year-old is also expected to be told prosecutors also want him jailed for another two years if convicted of smuggling cannabis into Ireland, four years for illegally exporting powerful sleeping pills and 10 months for membership of a criminal gang.

His conviction on all four charges could result in a prison sentence of eight years and four months.

His British girlfriend Sharon Oliver and son Darren have also been summoned to stand trial along with his playboy pal ‘Fat’ Tony Armstrong

Armstrong, investigated but never charged over the murders of Shane Coates and Stephen Sugg after their bodies were discovered under a Costa Blanca warehouse he rented in July 2006, was held in a second round of arrests in February four months after the raid on John Gilligan’s expat home.

John Gilligan in handcuffs following his arrest in Spain. Picture: Solarpix

A pre-trial indictment submitted to court officials after a lengthy judicial probe accused Gilligan of masterminding a plot to smuggle drug deliveries from Spain to Ireland inside consignments of toys and flip-flops.

Prosecutors say the drugs included cannabis and thousands of prescription-only sleeping pills dubbed zimmos which heroin addicts use to help them sleep and numb pain.

The six-page indictment, formulated against Gilligan and eight alleged accomplices including his partner and son, details the exhaustive operation involving phone taps and car follows by a specialist Spanish police organised crime unit which ended with the October 20 2020 arrests and raids including one on the villa in the sunshine resort of Torrevieja the criminal shared with his partner.

Gilligan, released from prison in Ireland in October 2103 after serving 17 years of a 20-year sentence for trafficking cannabis resin, was the only one of the nine people indicted charged over the weapons find despite earlier reports pointing to the likelihood his partner could also be accused.

Of the gun the prosecutors have said in their pre-trial indictment: “The pistol, with its case and ammunition was buried in the garden and at John Gilligan’s disposal.

“It has been catalogued as a short firearm equipped for use.”

Adding the chief suspect had no licence for the firearm, it added: “The cartridges were in good condition, hadn’t been modified and were apt for use with the pistol that was seized.”

Detailing the everyday items alleged gang leader Gilligan and his accomplices are accused of using to send cannabis and powerful sleeping pills from Spain to Ireland, the indictment said of the courier deliveries seized: “One opened on October 2020 contained seven boxes of children’s toys, two flip-flops and inside a towel, two packets containing marihuana buds weighing 685 and 700 grammes respectively.”

The same combination of towels, toys and flip-flops were also used to smuggle prescription medicines including pills used to treat insomnia like Limovane and Zoplicone according to the prosecution document.

The number of powerful sleeping pills seized totalled more than 27,000.

Spanish police picture of the arrest of John Gilligan. Photo: Solarpix

It is not yet clear whether Gilligan, who spent nearly two months on remand in prison following his Spain arrest, has instructed his lawyer to try to seek a plea bargain deal with prosecutors.

Any deal would involve him pleading guilty to wrongdoing in exchange for a reduced punishment.

Under Spanish law trials still occur where agreements are concluded in the run-up to defendants’ days of reckoning, but are condensed into shorter public hearings which go ahead as a formality.

Judges normally reserve both judgement and sentencing in Spain where trials take place without jurors as in the Gilligan case.

Tuesday’s trial is scheduled to last just one day.

Police sources said at the time of the initial October 2020 arrests that the raid on drugs baron Gilligan’s villa crucially took place as he was preparing a delivery to Ireland of marihuana and zimmos.

A Spanish National Police spokesman did not name Gilligan in a force statement at the time but said: “Investigators managed to intercept four postal deliveries in Spain in which four kilos of marihuana and 15,000 pills had been hidden.

“The well-known Irish criminal who allegedly headed the organisation was sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2001 in Ireland and served 17 years.

“Irish investigators linked his organisation to the murder of an Irish journalist.”

The force added in its statement, before it was reported the weapon found buried in his garden was not the one used in the Veronica Guerin murder: “The revolver that has been found is the same mark and model as the one used in the assassination of an Irish journalist in Dublin in 1996.

“Spanish officers are working with the Irish police to determine if it’s the same gun used to end her life.”

Ms Guerin was working for the Sunday Independent when she was shot dead at a red traffic light on the Naas Dual Carriageway near Newlands Cross on the outskirts of Dublin on June 26 1996.

The gun used to shoot her by one of two men on a motorbike was never found.

Her funeral was attended by Irish Taoiseach John Bruton, who described her murder as an “attack on democracy.”

The assassination led to the formation of Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau targeting organised criminals’ illegally acquired assets.

The 2003 biographical crime film Veronica Guerin, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Cate Blanchett in the title role, was the second to be inspired by the reporter’s life.

Gilligan was tried for Ms Guerin’s murder with other members of his drugs gang after a former soldier who prepared the gun used to kill her agreed to turn state’s witness and was given immunity from prosecution.

Judge Darmuid O’Donovan admitted as he acquitted him at Dublin’s Special Criminal Court he had “grave suspicions” the drugs baron was involved in the killing.

Former friend Brian ‘Tosser’ Meehan was convicted of the crime reporter’s murder and remains in prison.

Although Gilligan was acquitted of ordering the reporter’s murder in 2001, he was convicted of importing two tons of cannabis resin worth £32 million and sentenced to 28 years in prison which was reduced on appeal.

His home in Spain is a €300,000 four-bed villa, on a nondescript residential estate a ten-minute drive from Torrevieja town centre, where he is still believed to be living with the new woman in his life following his split from wife Geraldine.

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