Former GAA star facing 20 years in Hong Kong prison if convicted of drug smuggling
A Northern Ireland man could be facing at least 20 years in a Hong Kong jail after he was accused of being part of an international crystal meth drug smuggling ring.
Castlewellan man Brendan Toner (62) was allegedly caught attempting to smuggle the killer narcotic - also known as ice - from Hong Kong to Australia in a multi-million pound trafficking operation.
The drugs were discovered hidden in the former Down GAA star's luggage as he prepared to board a flight from Hong Kong last year.
A number of his co-accused claim to be victims of a west African crime syndicate.
Toner was released on bail in September after 17 months on remand in a Hong Kong prison with alleged fellow drug mules from Australia, America and Holland.
If convicted, he faces 20 years behind bars, Toner told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday.
He said he was reluctant to discuss his case with the media for legal reasons.
But he added that he was "coping great" with "no problems".
Toner, who once played at the highest level for the Mournemen, was one of nine alleged drug mules allegedly caught with between 1.5kg and 4kg of crystal meth hidden in their luggage.
Four co-defendants from Australia claimed that they were all lured by a west African crime gang.
They claimed that the gang grooms vulnerable people online into taking an all-expenses paid trip to Hong Kong on the lure of a financial deal, a romance, an inheritance or a humanitarian project.
Once in Hong Kong, they said they were handed luggage to take to Australia, which they did not know contained 'ice' hidden in the lining or in items inside.
The group were caught at Hong Kong Airport with a total of Aus$36m (£16m) worth of the drug weighing 29.5kg as they set off for Australia and New Zealand between April 2014 and March 2015.
Toner, who moved to England from Castlewellan several years ago, travelled to Hong Kong on April 13, 2014 from Newcastle Upon Tyne.
He was then due to travel on to Australia on April 21, 2014, but was arrested at the airport.
He was charged with one count of trafficking dangerous drugs and remanded in custody.
After a year-and-a-half behind bars awaiting trial, Toner was released on bail in September to report to police every week.
His passport was seized so that he could not leave the country.
During the bail hearing a judge said that each of the accused - seven men and two women, who are all aged between 44 and 75 - had been caught with a significant quantity of drugs.
"The fact that in every single instance it involved ice, I hate to think of the harm and damage it would have caused to the young in Australia and New Zealand," he said.
The court also heard that one of the accused had been warned by the Australian Federal Police that he may be the victim of a scam before he left Brisbane Airport for Hong Kong late last year.
Earlier this month Toner had his bail extended.
The Australian Government recently raised concern about the level of the deadly drug ice being imported into the country by international crime gangs.
A report revealed that the dangerously addictive yet easy to produce stimulant is now a greater threat to Australia than any other illicit drug.