Belfast Telegraph

Omagh man held over Spanish drugs seizure is innocent, says friend

BY JIM CUSACK

The friend of a 62-year-old Tyrone man arrested by Spanish police following the seizure at sea of 500kg of cocaine says he believes he became innocently tied up in the drug-smuggling operation after helping American nationals with their yacht.

Kenny Coalter, originally from Omagh, had built up a haulage business, along with a property portfolio in Dublin, which he sold during the property boom, before moving to Spain and subsequently to Gran Canaria.

He has been held largely incommunicado in jail in Las Palmas after being arrested in July, along with two American men, an Australian woman and two Spaniards, following the seizure of 500kg of cocaine, gold bars and firearms on board the yacht, Maid of Orleans, off Gran Canaria. The haul was valued at £114m.

Spanish police also froze Mr Coalter's bank account and he was only allowed a visit by a solicitor last Tuesday after his family had raised money on his behalf.

The yacht is registered to a man in his 40s from Rhode Island, who was sailing the boat solo when it was intercepted by Spanish police at night. Police on Gran Canaria and Tenerife then arrested five others, including Mr Coalter.

Mr Coalter's friend Richard Grant said he was a highly thought-of and well-known member of the yachting community in Las Palmas.

Mr Grant, who lives in Gran Canaria for part of the year, said Mr Kenny, who retired to the island, had been helping the owner of the Maid of Orleans.

He said: "Kenny is a great guy and really popular here. He is well known as being a great help with other people's boats. He is a trained engineer and he can do electrics as well. He is always fixing people's boats and he looks after them when people are away.

"Recently, he helped these Americans who arrived here. They said they were doing business in Capa Verde and they were riding around here on big motorbikes. Kenny is mad about bikes.

"Kenny used his Spanish residency to register their motorbikes and a camper van. He did it totally innocent of their activities."

Mr Grant was only recently able to speak to Mr Coalter by phone.

"His mother in Tyrone has been informed. He was very worried she would find out from newspapers, as she is elderly," he said.

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"Kenny is a great guy and really popular here. He is well known as being a great help with other people's boats. He is a trained engineer and he can do electrics as well. When I spoke to Kenny, he was very worried that his circle of friends here would think of him as a criminal.

"I assured him that every single person that knows him here understands exactly what happened. His mother in Tyrone has also been informed. He was very worried that she would find out from newspapers, as she is elderly."

Richard Grant, a friend of Tyrone man Kenny Coalter

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