Accused in Ireland’s biggest drug seizure returned for trial at Special Criminal Court

Five charged over seizure of 2.2 tonnes of cocaine worth €157 million on MV Matthew in September last year

Five men have been returned for trial at the Special Criminal Court after being served books of evidence in relation to the biggest drugs seizure in the history of the State when over 2.2 tonnes of cocaine worth €157 million was seized.

The five accused were crew members aboard the MV Matthew when Army Rangers boarded the ship at sea off the coast of east Cork in the early hours of September 26th, 2023.

All five are charged with conspiring with others to possess the cocaine for sale or supply within the State on September 24th, 2023, and with being knowingly involved in the activities of a criminal organisation.

The five men, Myhailo Gavryk (31), Vitaliy Vlasoi (31), Saeid Hassani (38), Cumali Ozgen (49) and Harold Estoesta (30), all appeared amid tight security before Mallow District Court.


Det Garda Mark Donovan of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau served books of evidence on all five accused, who were assisted by Russian, Farsi, Dutch and Filipino interpreters during their cases which were each called individually before Judge Colm Roberts.

Insp Tony Sullivan said the Director of Public Prosecutions had “certified that the ordinary courts were inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice” and was seeking that the matter be heard by the Special Criminal Court.

Defence solicitors James McGuill, Elaine Martin, Don Ryan and Aidan Desmond and barrister Ciaran McCarthy said they were consenting to the returns for trial for their clients but they each made applications in respect of free legal aid for their clients.

All five lawyers made applications for free legal aid for a senior counsel, a junior counsel and a documentary counsel in respect of each of their clients. They also asked for the book of evidence to be translated into their clients’ native languages in addition to an interpreter.

Mr McGuill observed that free legal aid for a Russian interpreter for his client, Mr Gavryk, was essential as the file included some 13,000 exhibits while he also applied for free legal aid for a maritime expert to examine the MV Matthew.

Judge Roberts said he had no difficulty approving free legal aid for a maritime expert.

Judge Roberts gave each of the five accused an alibi warning where he told them that if they were relying on alibi evidence in their defence against the charges, then they must notify the State of that intention within 14 days.

Judge Roberts remanded the five accused in continuing custody at Cork Prison to appear again at a sitting of a Special Criminal Court.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times