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Operation Venetic: Co Down man appears in court charged with drug offences

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Police carried out a series of raids across Northern Ireland as part of Operation Venetic. Pic Pacemaker.

Police carried out a series of raids across Northern Ireland as part of Operation Venetic. Pic Pacemaker.

Police carried out a series of raids across Northern Ireland as part of Operation Venetic. Pic Pacemaker.

A Co Down man has appeared in court as police forces across Europe investigate organised crime in Operation Venetic.

Prosecuting lawyer Robin Steer told Craigavon Magistrates Court that having accessed messages and images in an encrypted phone, police believe that Bryan McManus (64) is involved in the “transport and shipment of large quantities of drugs and cash,” adding that “we say he is connected to a criminal network.”

McManus appeared at court via videolink from police custody and confirmed that he understood the 12 charges against him.

McManus, from Aileen Terrace in Newry, was charged with nine drugs offences accusing him of conspiring with others to import cocaine and cannabis, being concerned in the supply of the class A and B drugs, conspiring to possess cocaine and cannabis, conspiring to produce cannabis and two counts of simple possession of cocaine, all alleged to have committed in dates between 25 March and 15 June this year.

The 64-year-old was also charged with possessing criminal property and conspiring to convert and conceal criminal property.

Giving evidence to the court, Detective Constable McDonald said he believed he could connect McManus to each of the charges while Mr Steer told the court there were objections to the defendant being freed on bail amid fears that he would commit further offences or interfere with the investigation.

Mr Steer told District Judge Mark McGarrity how detectives had been able to access a previously encrypted phone which was found to contain “a very large number of messages regarding the transport and shipment of very large quantities of drugs and cash.”

Some of the messages referred to amounts of money up to £300,000 while other referred to “cocaine testing kits and a metal press used to make blocks of cocaine,” said the lawyer adding that investigators believe they can connect McManus to the encrypted phone.

Mr Steer revealed that on the messages the user, calling himself Foxnorth, referred to his wife being called Carmel, having a black Seat Leon car and to a yard at Bulls Hill in Newry, explaining how all of that was consistent with McManus.

Further to the messages, officers uncovered an image on the previously encrypted phone of a red rug in front of a fireplace which police believe matches McManus’ home while during a search of the property, a saxophone and a harmonica were seized with ‘Foxnorth’ messaging another user about playing those instruments.

That search also uncovered “two small quantities of cocaine” but during interviews, McManus denied knowing anything about them, claiming they “must have been left by others after a party.”

Despite defence submissions from solicitor Joseph McVeigh that nothing significant was actually found, other than the small amounts of cocaine and that the case against McManus “is entirely circumstantial,” the judge refused to free him due to the risk of further offences.

Belfast Telegraph