The ‘key member’ of the Kinahan cartel arrested in the Costa Del Sol on Monday allegedly helped his crime bosses launder a staggering £170million in 18 months.
Johnny Morrissey, a former Rochdale doorman with an Irish passport, was detained after a raid on his home while he was sat topless wearing tropical shorts, footage from the Civil Guard shows.
Officers were also filmed putting wads of confiscated cash through counting machines and searching cars at a separate address which were allegedly used to move money and drugs in hidden compartments.
Detectives say they have smashed the most important international criminal organisation operating in Spain with his arrest, which is said to have laundered £300,000 a day.
Morrissey’s wife Nicola is the CEO of a Glasgow-based vodka firm called Nero Drinks which was allegedly used as a front for the gang, although she was released after a court appearance yesterday.
Spanish detectives revealed they believed the cash had not been physically moved out of Spain but spread throughout the world using an ancient money transfer system called Hawala.
Johnny Morrissey is arrested in the Costa del Sol while shirtless after a raid by the Civil Guard
Detectives from six different police forces, including the Spanish Civil Guard, Garda and powerful US DEA law enforcement agency, participated in the operation which snared Johnny Morrissey, pictured centre
Detectives say they have smashed the most important international criminal organisation operating in Spain with his arrest
His wife Nicola, pictured centre, CEO of a Scotland-based vodka firm linked by police to organised crime, raised her middle finger as she was walked out by armed Spanish cops behind him. The pair appeared in court yesterday after spending two nights in police custody
The informal method of moving money, originating from an Arabic term for transfer or trust and involving a network of brokers, is known to have been adopted by criminal gangs who use code numbers or tokens like banknotes torn in half to prove cash is due.
The system is widely used in the Middle East, moving payments through a trusted network of agents who operate outside banks that leaves no paper trail.
Two of his associates were also arrested in Spain, including wife Nicola, and one in the United Kingdom.
A spokesman for the Civil Guard said: ‘The Civil Guard, through an operation dubbed Whitewall, has smashed the most important international criminal organisation that operated in Spain dedicated to money laundering.
‘In a little over a year and a half they could have laundered more than £173million through the system known as Hawala.’
It emerged overnight Morrissey, identified by US authorities in April as a key aide of the Kinahan Organised Crime Gang, had been held on suspicion of money laundering at his Costa del Sol home.
Officers were also filmed putting wads of confiscated cash through counting machines
A machete was found in the search after Monday’s raid which has been celebrated by Spanish police
Last year, Spanish police seized 200kg of cocaine and 500,000 Euros stashed in cars with ‘sophisticated concealment systems’
One of the alleged members of the criminal organisation smashed by police ran a second-hand car dealership
Who are the Kinahan gang?
The Kinahan cartel is said to have emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the most ‘powerful organised crime group’ operating in Ireland, founded by Christy Kinahan.
His criminal history dates back to the 1970s and includes house breaking, car theft, burglary, handling stolen goods and forgery.
Irish police said the gang have gone from dealing heroin and cocaine in Dublin to operating across Europe.
Irish courts have said that the Kinahan gang is a ‘murderous organisation’ involved in the international trafficking of drugs and firearms.
Criminal activities include international money laundering, generating proceeds in the UK, which are then pooled together and passed to local criminals before being handed to Irish organised crime group members and laundered out of the UK.
The Kinahans also frequently use Dubai as a facilitation hub for its ‘illicit activities’.
Since February 2016, the criminal gang has been involved in a gang war with another group in Ireland and Spain, resulting in numerous murders, including of two innocent bystanders.
A wide range of criminality, including more than a dozen murders, is estimated to have generated over a billion euros.
In April this year, the US offered a $5million reward for help arresting the leaders of the trafficking gang.
Daniel Kinahan, one of the three leaders named by U.S. authorities, has been involved in organising high profile boxing fights in recent years.
He was credited by world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury with helping broker a potential unification bout two years ago.
Nicola is thought to have been freed on bail and remains under investigation although officials could not be reached early this morning for comment.
The pair were pictured in handcuffs after their detentions, with Morrissey trying to cover his face and Nicola raising her middle finger to photographers as she was led away.
Monday’s arrests took place after a lengthy probe led by the Civil Guard Unit’s elite Central Operative Unit, responsible for the investigation and prosecution of the most serious forms of crime and organised crime.
Officers from the Garda, Britain’s National Crime Agency, Europe and the powerful US DEA law enforcement agency, took part in the culmination of the police operation.
Detectives said the starting point for the Spanish police investigation had been the seizure at the start of last year of 200 kilograms of cocaine and 500,000 Euros (£430,000) in cash hidden in vehicles with ‘sophisticated concealment systems’.
One of the alleged members of the criminal organisation smashed by police ran a second-hand car dealership.
As well as the three arrests in Spain, a former Costa del Sol-based Irish expat was held in the UK.
Nearly a dozen searches of residential and business premises took place in Spain as well as Britain, including two places in Glasgow thought to be related to Nero Drinks and one in Heywood in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
Referring to Johnny Morrissey although he wasn’t named in a Spanish police statement about the operation, the Civil Guard said: ‘The main target in Spain devoted himself to collecting large amounts of money in cash from criminal organisations operating in our country and handing it through the Hawala system to organised criminal groups in other countries and vice-versa.
‘Investigators were able to corroborate that during the time the investigation lasted, he allegedly managed to transfer more than two hundred million Euros (£173million).’
Outlining the role Nero Drinks allegedly played, the Civil Guard said in a statement: ‘The principal members of the organisation in Spain allegedly created a luxury vodka brand promoted at shows, parties and events at nightclubs and restaurants in luxury Costa del Sol environments, presenting it as a successful drinks brand.
Multiple passports were seized in the raid on Monday which has so far led to three arrests in Spain
A helicopter circles ahead over a compound as Spanish police cracked down on the cartel
Police are pictured carrying out a search at a vehicle storage facility where drugs were found in the cars
What is hawala?
Hawala is an informal money transfer system used since ancient times that does not involve the physical exchange of cash.
It is often used to bypass banks and is based solely on trust, providing anonymity to those involved.
If one person wishes to transfer a sum to another, they will approach a dealer known as a hawaladar, to facilitate the arrangement.
For example, if Janet wishes to pay John who lives in another town £100, she will give the local hawaladar the the sum and the details of the transaction, the name of the recipient, their location and a password.
The hawaladar contacts a fellow dealer in John’s city and asks him to give John £100 if he can correctly say the password.
That second hawaladar will give John £100 from his own account, minus the commission, and he is now owed £100 from the first hawaladar.
No money is moved from one place to the other and nothing is signed, the system is based on honour and trust.
Because it provides anonymity, it is often used in money laundering which hides the source of cash generated through illegal activities.
‘This couldn’t be further from reality because according to information from tax authorities, it couldn’t be funding the lifestyle of the people arrested.
‘Similarly they allegedly created another firm in the UK which was dependent on another company created in Gibraltar, with the aim of hiding the true identity of the directors of the firms that were used to launder the money coming from Hawala.’
Johnny Morrissey, full name John Francis Morrissey, was one of seven people hit with sanctions in April and named by the US department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
The US authorities said of Morrissey, so close to alleged cartel boss Daniel Kinahan he was invited to his wedding in Dubai in the summer of 2017: ‘John Morrissey has worked for the Kinahan Organised Crime Group (KOCG) for several years, including as an enforcer, and facilitates international drug shipments for the organisation from South America. John Morrissey is also involved in money laundering.
He was included on the list alongside the likes of Daniel, described in the same statement as ‘playing an integral part in organising the supply of drugs in Ireland’, his father Christopher and veteran Dublin-born criminal Bernard Clancy.
The other people named as part of a $5million appeal for information were Christopher Kinahan Jnr, Daniel Kinahan’s ‘advisor and closest confidant’ Sean McGovern and Ian Dixon who was arrested over the 2015 Costa del Sol murder of Gary Hutch but never charged.
Morrissey is the first on the list to be arrested since it was made public.
Nero Drinks Company Ltd was one of three companies included in the list and banned from trading in the States.
Johnny, who courted celebrities including models and reality TV stars as the ambassador of his wife’s drinks business, left Ireland more than 20 years ago after reportedly being involved in a bid to harm a Criminal Assets Bureau officer in Ireland.
Nearly a dozen searches of residential and business premises took place in Spain as well as Britain
The Kinahan cartel gained notoriety around the world over a feud with the rival Hutch gang which has led to the deaths of at least 18 people in Ireland and Spain.
Fugitive boss Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch was arrested in August last year near his bolthole in the Costa del Sol resort of Fuengirola and is due to be tried later this year for the February 2016 murder of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel in Dublin.
BBC’s Panorama exposed Daniel Kinahan’s influence in world boxing in a documentary last year which led to calls for tighter regulation of the sport.
Two-time world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury reportedly dropped the Irishman as his negotiator after his ‘instrumental’ role in brokering a two-fight deal with rival Anthony Joshua was outlined. Fury had previously thanked Kinahan on Instagram.
The 45-year-old Dubliner, now based in Dubai, insisted after the Panorama programme: ‘I am not part of a criminal gang or any conspiracy. I have no convictions. None. Not just in Ireland but anywhere in the world.’