The new IRA leader who ordered the murder of north Belfast drug dealer Kevin Kearney is in £120,000 of debt to two major cocaine dealers.
Terror chief 'B', a convicted criminal who we cannot name for legal reasons, ordered the 'body in the lake' killing in a desperate bid to show his dissident bosses that he is firmly anti-drugs.
But the man who is the New IRA's north Belfast commander was also covering up a dirty little secret -- he was behind recent attempts to extort £10,000 from 46-year-old Kearney.
Sunday Life can further reveal that:
* the murder victim handed over a total of £20,000 to dissidents last year to be allowed to drug deal free from attack;
* his ex-partner Charlene Whelan had to leave Ardoyne after being convicted of possessing cannabis with intent to supply; and
* the killing was sanctioned by two notorious New IRA bosses from Lurgan and west Belfast.
Kearney, whose body was found floating in water at the Alexandra Park on Wednesday, first encountered problems with dissident republicans last year.
He paid an ONH terror gang in Ardoyne £10,000 to be allowed to continue drug dealing without fear of being targeted.
Seeing Kearney as a potential cash-cow a rival dissident gang extorted a further £10,000 from him at Christmas after making similar threats.
At the end of the summer the New IRA in north Belfast, under the control of its criminal chief 'B', demanded the same amount.
Only this time flash car loving Kearney had enough and told the pseudo-republican thugs to "do one".
It was this bold-as-brass attitude that sealed his fate.
On Tuesday two New IRA gunmen watched as he left his house on Dunmore Avenue to walk his dogs and shot him repeatedly as he strolled through Alexandra Park.
Republican sources in north Belfast, disgusted by the cold-blooded murder, laid the blame firmly at the feet of the New IRA's north Belfast boss.
The dissident 'B', who is aged in his late 30s, has a conviction for being part of a tiger kidnapping gang.
An ex-Provo, he was part of a cowardly IRA beating squad in north Belfast during the 1990s which broke the legs of teenagers accused of anti-social behaviour.
Not only is 'B' a common criminal but he is also in £120,000 of debt to two north Belfast cocaine dealers who until recently were regularly seen by his side.
Since forming a New IRA cell in the area last year he ditched the drug lords who loaned him the huge sum.
The dealers, who are from the Oldpark and Carrick Hill areas, were once his best pals.
But they are now too frightened to ask for their money back because of his powerful paramilitary position.
In August dissident chief 'B' was prominent during the anti-internment parade through the centre of Belfast that was re-routed after loyalists rioted on Royal Avenue.
While he played the role of a hardline republican that evening he was also busy plotting taking an easy £10,000 from Kevin Kearney.
The drug dealer -- who was described as "mid-level" rather than a Mr Big by criminal sources -- knew 'B' for years.
The pair socialised in the same clubs and pubs in Ardoyne and the New Lodge areas.
Aware that Kearney was a drug dealer, and that he lived a life far beyond the means of his regular taxi driver income, the New IRA chief came up with a plot to extort him.
He also knew that in the past year the father-of-four had twice handed over £10,000 sums to ONH and a rival rag-tag dissident gang. Chancing his arm 'B' also demanded £10,000 but Kearney unexpectedly told him where to go.
Shocked, and worried that his victim would spill the beans about the extortion attempt, the dissident leader suggested Kearney as a target to his New IRA bosses from west Belfast and Lurgan.
The pair -- who are often seen in each other's company and who have previously been gifted new cars by 'B' -- sanctioned the hit in the belief that it would win them support from within the community.
They also knew that Kearney's former long-term partner and mother of his children Charlene Whelan, 39, is a convicted drug dealer.
She moved from Ardoyne in 2010 to Dunmore Park after being sentenced to 100 hours community service for possessing cannabis with intent to supply.
However the New IRA's decision to execute Kearney has backfired spectacularly with north Belfast republicans totally rejecting it as a form of justice.
Although a mid-level drug dealer, the murder victim was also a popular figure. One ex-IRA man told Sunday Life: "When 'B', the man who ordered Kev Kearney's murder, was in jail for non-republican criminal activities he cried the place down about his human rights being abused because of strip searches by the screws.
"What about the human rights of Kev Kearney? Yes, the guy was a drug dealer, but there was no need for him to be murdered.
"He could have easily been kneecapped. But 'B' wanted him dead in case the truth came out about him trying to extort £10,000 from Kev and taxing other drug dealers in north Belfast."
Since the murder the New IRA has attempted to smear Kearney, saying he was a major criminal and linking him to 16 handguns and 800 bullets recently discovered in woodland in east Belfast.
The claim is complete fantasy as the weapons that were found belonged to loyalists.
In a statement issued last Wednesday the New IRA warned that drug dealing would not be tolerated, nor would "palm greasing and back handers".
The comments were a deliberate attempt to distance the terror gang from the fact that it is openly taxing drug dealers.
This was confirmed by Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, who said: "It is common knowledge that they (New IRA) have within their ranks people who have taken back-handers from drug dealers so that they can continue peddling drugs. This makes them the same as drug dealers who bring death and destruction to the community."