Belfast Telegraph

Man who paid dissident's bail ran Northern Ireland's biggest ever money-laundering scam

By Sean O'Driscoll

A man who provided the bail money for a dissident republican fighting extradition to Lithuania ran the largest money-laundering scheme for smugglers and paramilitaries ever detected in Northern Ireland, the Belfast Telegraph has learned.

Convicted fraudster Kenneth Mackin masterminded the bogus purchase and sale of tens of millions of pounds worth of Coca Cola through his wholesale business that was, in reality, a front for laundering illicit gains from hundreds of cigarette smugglers and paramilitaries.

Sam Sittlington is a former PSNI financial detective who now runs a fraud detection company and oversaw the investigation into Mackin. Mr Sittlington described Mackin's operation as the largest such network ever detected in Northern Ireland and uncovered a vast network of cigarette smuggling all over the world. "This goes across the world, as far as Hong Kong," he said. "The biggest cigarette smuggler in Ireland was putting his money through this. Everybody was in there, a lot of paramilitaries along the border.

"We counted 150 criminals but there was other names as well."

Liam Campbell was the Real IRA's director of operations at the time, Belfast's High Court subsequently found. Last December, Mackin and his wife put up €40,000 (£33.7k) in bail money for Campbell, who is wanted in Lithuania for the alleged purchase of Semtex explosives, arms and other bomb-making equipment.

Campbell was found civilly liable for the 1998 Omagh bomb, which killed 29 people. Campbell, who has a conviction for Real IRA membership, is also a major cigarette smuggler who ran one of Ireland's largest networks, according to authorities on both sides of the border.

Last December, Kenneth Mackin's wife, Veronica, told Judge Aileen Donnelly in a Dublin High Court bail application that the money had come from the company account of Bubbles Wholesalers, an importer and cash and carry company she and her husband run in Dundalk.

Under cross-examination, Veronica Mackin was not asked about her husband's previous convictions, committed while he was a sole trader in the border region.

Bubbles was incorporated by the couple in Dundalk after Kenneth Mackin's conviction in Northern Ireland. Kenneth Mackin (47), of Maphoner Road, Mullaghbawn, Newry, was in court for the December hearing.

Ms Mackin returned to the High Court last Monday to say she and her husband supported Campbell's application, which was unsuccessful, to have his bail conditions eased.

In 2005, Kenneth Mackin pleaded guilty to nine counts of money laundering, deception and evading VAT and was given a three-year suspended sentence. He was also ordered to repay £500,000 to the UK government.

"He was ordered to pay £500,000 and he did pay it all," Mr Sittlington said. "He was involved in very sophisticated crime that involved hundreds of clients."

Kenneth Mackin and his brother, Raymond Mackin, who was given a suspended sentence and ordered to repay £250,000, claimed to be distributing Coca Cola in the Republic, according to the Organised Crime Task Force.

It said in a later summary of the case that it as "a classic case of money laundering and VAT fraud which was based on an elaborate scheme involving the fictitious transportation of Coca Cola between Northern Ireland and the Republic."

In 1999-2000, the Mackin brothers were sending 15 lorry loads per day to the Republic - more Coca Cola than was actually being produced in the state.

A Garda source familiar with the High Court bail process said that previous convictions are not an absolute bar to posting bail.

Asked about her husband's conviction, Veronica Mackin said that the Campbell case was a "private matter".

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