A businessman who is regarded as a kingpin in the cross-border fuel laundering trade has been arrested by police in the Republic after a major cigarettes seizure.
The cigarettes have a retail value of €4.3m (£3.6m) and represent a potential loss to the Exchequer of €3.7m (£3.1m).
Two of the four are top targets for the Irish authorities in their fight against illegal fuel laundering and cigarette smuggling.
The suspects were arrested by armed officers yesterday after gardai and customs officials intercepted a truck taking a shipment of nine million cigarettes from Dublin Port towards the border.
Garda detectives from the Organised Crime Unit stopped the truck and another vehicle at a service station on the M1 motorway, near Castlebellingham, Co Louth.
The seizure was the culmination of an intelligence-led operation led by Assistant Garda Commissioner Derek Byrne.
Officers monitored the truck as it left the port with the shipment before arresting the four on suspicion of evading excise duties under the Finance Act.
Gardai carried out nine follow-up searches in private residences and business premises in Louth and Dublin and seized tractors and other agricultural equipment, worth about €90,000 (£75,500).
The seizure was the culmination of a major international spying operation sparked by a failed rocket attack on a freight ship in the Middle East just over three weeks ago.
A missile fired from a hand-held rocket launcher blew a small hole in a container on the Cosco Asia as it passed through the Suez Canal on August 31.
The huge illegal cigarette haul was discovered while the slightly damaged container was being inspected. Paperwork showed that the shipment was en route from South East Asia to Ireland.
Following consultation between Interpol and the Irish authorities, it was decided to allow the container to sail here after it was fitted with tracking devices and monitored by satellites for the rest of its journey.
Egyptian officials said the al-Qaida attack was intended to disrupt shipping through the vital global trade route.
A major debate about cross-border rackets will be held today at an annual police gathering involving the gardai and the PSNI.
The fuel laundering kingpin arrested after a huge cigarette seizure in Co Louth is alleged to be at the top of a criminal pyramid, which has links to republican groups. At one stage, he fell out with his republican accomplices. He was given a severe beating and threatened he would not survive if he crossed them again.