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John Gilligan laughs outside court after his drugs and weapons trial is suspended in Spain

The convicted drug dealer was told he was hours away from being rewarded with his passport back so he can drive girlfriend Sharon Oliver to Britain for an op.

John Gilligan outside court. Photo: Solarpix.com© SOLARPIX.COM

John Gilligan leaves court© SOLARPIX.COM

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

Gerard CouzensSunday World

IRISH gangster John Gilligan remains a free man after his Spanish drugs and weapons trial was suspended following a no-show by his son Darren.

And instead of prison the convicted drug dealer was told he was hours away from being rewarded with his passport back so he can drive girlfriend Sharon Oliver to Britain for an op.

The unexpected twist in the case occurred after lawyers for the nine defendants due to be put in the dock failed to thrash out a plea bargain deal with the state prosecutor in a behind-closed-doors hearing before a judge ahead of a brief public session.

Gilligan, looking dapper in a light grey suit over a white shirt, talked animatedly outside the courtroom in the Costa Blanca town of Torrevieja with some of his defendants after turning up for the hearing with ‘Fat’ Tony Armstrong and his playboy pal’s teenage son.

The on-bail criminal, prosecuted but acquitted of the 1996 murder of investigative journalist Veronica Guerin, could be overheard telling one in the court corridor: “I signed a declaration six months ago accepting blame and absolving others of responsibility.”

Sources confirmed after the trial suspension today a plea bargain deal had been discussed.

But they said the state prosecutor’s offer of a three-year prison sentence for the illegal exportation of powerful sleeping pills called zimmos from Spain to Ireland in exchange for confessions had been the main sticking point.

John Gilligan leaves court© SOLARPIX.COM

Darren Gilligan’s absence was confirmed when a court clerk called the defendants into court for the public session just before midday.

Friends have said he is back in Ireland and short of money. Court officials will now attempt to track him down before he is declared as being in contempt of court if they fail to locate him so he can be tried in his absence.

The threat of a prison sentence of more than eight years still hangs over his dad’s head following the failure to strike a deal that would have reduced the trial to a mere formality.

State prosecutors are demanding an 18-month prison sentence for unlawful weapons possession for Gilligan after a gun Spanish police linked to Veronica Guerin’s assassination was found hidden in the garden of his expat home in Torrevieja.

Detectives said when he was arrested in October 2020 the gun was a rare Colt Python .357 Magnum and described it as the “same make and model” as the one used to kill the reporter in an ambush at a red light on the outskirts of Dublin in June 1996.

Spanish prosecutors went on to describe it as a Colt Defender and call it an air pistol in a written six-page indictment, although well-placed sources claimed today police had got the right firearm and the indictment contained an “error.”

And they indicated that although it was an air pistol, it had been classified as a handgun because it could be used to fire bullets.

Prosecutors also want Gilligan jailed for another two years if convicted of smuggling cannabis into Ireland, four years for illegally exporting the prescription-only sleeping pills and 10 months for membership of a criminal gang.

The drugs were allegedly smuggled into Ireland via courier deliveries in boxes containing flip-flops and children’s towels.

It emerged today the 70-year-old Dubliner, seen laughing with fellow Irishman Armstrong as he walked past a police station towards court after breakfast at a nearby bar, had indicated in an earlier behind-closed-doors hearing he was ready to plead guilty to certain charges in return for a reduced sentence.

One well-placed insider said: “The problem is that although Gilligan puts his hands up to wrongdoing to extricate people like his girlfriend, that’s not going to automatically lead to an acquittal for the other defendants if prosecutors are convinced they have a good case against them.

“The other issue are the concessions the state prosecutor is offering in return for official guilty pleas.

“Defendants are always going to be more likely to accept a deal where there is a significant prison time reduction on offer and that’s not happening here at the moment.”

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

Judge Jorge Martinez was last night considering whether to let Gilligan and his girlfriend, who turned up for court separately wearing a black trouser suit and clutching a black Chanel handbag, have their passports back so they can travel to England.

The couple’s lawyer made the travel submission after telling the court in open session Sharon Oliver needed to head back to her homeland urgently for an operation on a hernia and her partner had to take her by car because she didn’t have a driving licence.

The request was not opposed by the state prosecutor, meaning it could be just a question of hours before Gilligan and his girlfriend leave Spain temporarily.

The judge wrapped up the brief public session by saying: “We are going to suspend the trial to April of next year.”

The five lawyers acting for the nine defendants are now expected to continue trying to negotiate a plea bargain deal with state prosecutor Barbara Valero before the rescheduled three-day trial starting on April 17.

They are understood to be open to a deal if the offer on the table is little or no prison time.

Jail terms of two years or less are normally suspended in Spain for first-time offenders.

Police sources said at the time of Gilligan’s October 2020 arrest that the raid on the drug baron’s villa crucially took place as he was preparing a delivery to Ireland of marihuana and sleeping pills which heroin addicts use to help them numb pain.

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 POUNDS 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 believed to be living with the new woman in his life following his split from wife Geraldine.

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