Liam Byrne, the leader of the Dublin-based drugs gang that ran the Kinahan cartel’s operations in Ireland, has been arrested in Spain. The 42-year-old is wanted by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) after being connected to alleged gun running.
It is alleged messages intercepted from EncroChat, the secret messaging system used by criminals until it was infiltrated in 2020 by international law enforcement, linked Byrne to the guns trade.
Byrne fled the Republic as his home in Crumlin, Dublin, was being seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) in a major assets confiscation case that also targeted some of his associates and concluded in 2019. He was arrested while in Mallorca on Sunday evening after being placed under surveillance there.
Police moved in and detained him while he was having a meal in a restaurant in the Alcudia area with members of his family. It appears he believed he had arrived in Mallorca undetected, but that was not the case as he was being tracked in an operation between Spanish, British and Irish law enforcement.
A vehicle he was using was located, enabling Spanish police to locate and arrest Byrne. Spain’s Policía Nacional said the danger posed by Byrne “and the possibility that he could be (arrested) with firearms” necessitated a special policing operation being put in place to carry out the arrest.
While initially based in the UK after leaving the Republic, it appears he had been residing in Dubai of late having fled from Britain as a major inquiry into him there was nearing completion. He flew into Mallorca, via Palma airport, from Dubai on May 26th for a family reunion on the island.
The NCA’s regional head of investigations, Kay Mellor, said the investigation resulting in the arrest of Byrne - and a second Irishman in Spain, Jack Kavanagh (22) - was “part of the NCA’s ongoing work targeting the Kinahan crime group”.
Kavanagh, who is based in Tamworth, Staffordshire, was arrested in Malaga Airport while transiting from Dubai to Turkey last Tuesday.
“Liam Byrne and Jack Kavanagh have been evading justice for a number of years, but have now been arrested in relation to serious firearms offences,” Ms Mellor said. “We have an excellent relationship with the Spanish National Police and will continue to work closely with our international partners to ensure those who think they can stay under the radar have no place to hide.”
The NCA added it had obtained trade and co-operation agreement (TACA) warrants “after EncroChat messages showed they (Byrne and Kavanagh) were believed to be involved in the supply and acquisition of firearms”. Both Irish suspects were now in custody in Spain awaiting extradition to the UK. Of the two men, Liam Byrne is by far the more senior figure and his arrest is of much higher value than Kavanagh’s.
In 2016, Liam Byrne’s brother, David Byrne, was the single fatality at the Regency Hotel shooting that escalated the infamous Kinahan-Hutch feud. Liam Byrne was a central player in the feud.
Spain’s Policía Nacional did not named Byrne as the man its members had arrested but described the suspect they had taken into custody as “a priority fugitive for the United Kingdom” linked to the “Kinahan clan” and “trafficking firearms” to other crime gangs.
The Policía Nacional said the gang Byrne was now accused of leading was “an arms trafficking organisation ... engaged in buying numerous pistols and submachine guns”. It added many of the firearms allegedly acquired by the gang were fitted with “systems that did not leave fingerprints”, a measure intended to frustrate criminal investigators. The Spanish police also alleged the gang was so significant in scale that one of the orders it received was “for 14 firearms in a single batch”.
The Policía Nacional also revealed Byrne’s arrest was part of a much wider, and long term, investigation that had also targeted other men the Dubliner was linked to. It added those other suspects were arrested in Great Britain and Northern Ireland for drug trafficking, with “numerous short arms, submachine guns” seized. It added “a vault with firearms and ammunition” was discovered at one point.
Furthermore, the Spanish police said while Byrne had continued to lead a “high-end lifestyle” after leaving Britain, and allegedly continued to direct a crime gang while in Dubai, Spanish police officers specialised in locating wanted fugitives were in contact with the British police about his case.
In February, 2019, Cab was granted permission by the High Court to seize Liam Byrne’s home in Crumlin, having first conducted a dawn raid on the house in Raleigh Square in 2016. The house was bought in the name of a third party in 2011 for €250,000 and in the years that followed some €740,000 was spent extending and improving it.
Unpublished High Court rulings obtained by The Irish Times in 2019 named Byrne as one of the four main protagonists in the Kinahan-Hutch feud. He was named alongside his cousin, convicted killer Freddie Thompson, and international drugs cartel leader Daniel Kinahan on one side, with Gerry Hutch and the Hutch gang on the other.
The bureau told the High Court Liam Byrne was “heavily involved” in violent crime, with connections to organised crime in the UK, Spain and the Netherlands. Cab described Byrne as a “trusted lieutenant of Daniel Kinahan and the Kinahan organised crime group”. With Liam Byrne as leader, the Byrne group was involved in “the importation and distribution of controlled drugs and firearms” in the Republic, the Cab said in its evidence to the High Court.