Haulier Thomas Maher’s wealth exposed international drug cartel links
23 Dec 2020

A major figure in the organised crime world who went undetected for two decades before being exposed by his lavish lifestyle has been jailed.

Thomas Maher, 40, an Irish haulier who lived in Warrington, Cheshire, was described by the National Crime Agency (NCA) as a “professional facilitator” for crime gangs ranging from Colombian drug traffickers to pan-European syndicates.

Maher was sentenced at Liverpool crown court to 14 years and eight months in prison for two money-laundering and two drug-trafficking offences. He must serve half the sentence and will be subject to a serious crime prevention order upon release.

Key evidence against him came from the Encrochat encrypted messaging system used by criminals but hacked by law enforcement agencies in April, delivering a wealth of intelligence on the operations of crime gangs across Europe.

Maher’s messages revealed a network of criminal contacts stretching from Dublin to Bulgaria to east Africa to Colombia but managed “from his sofa” in Warrington. He carried out meticulous planning for shipments of drugs through Europe to Britain and Ireland with consignments of cash moving in the other direction.

Judge David Aubrey told Maher he was “an extremely important cog in the wheel of the distribution of class A drugs internationally”.

Maher was initially arrested during the investigation into the deaths of 39 Vietnamese immigrants at Purfleet, Essex, in October 2019 when police linked the tractor unit involved in the people-smuggling operation to him. Investigations revealed the vehicle had been sold on but police alerted the NCA, noting that Maher’s lavish lifestyle outstripped his earnings.

He paid himself a minimal wage from his haulage business but had a Range Rover, a Land Rover Discovery and a £70,000 Corvette on his drive and a selection of Hublot and Rolex watches. A map of the world made from bullet casings hung on the wall in his home. He also had a property in Spain where a Porsche Cayenne was parked.

Maher and his wife spent more than £90,000 in three years flying business class on holidays to Dubai, Mexico and New York.

During a seven-month investigation NCA officers tailed Maher as he met contacts to organise smuggling runs. The pandemic restricted his movements and detectives were struck by Maher’s strict adherence to lockdown rules. Overweight and fearing for his health he ordered food deliveries and up to five takeaways per day but he continued to run his international smuggling business.

Maher specialised in moving multiple, small quantities of drugs, calculating that the loss of smaller consignments could be absorbed more easily than large amounts. He was the logistics expert, using complicit drivers working for legitimate haulage businesses to carry the loads.

He was arrested in June and admitted offences of shipping 21kg of cocaine from the Netherlands across Britain to Ireland and moving €900,000 in the opposite direction. Sources said his clients included the notorious Kinahan cartel, which originated in Dublin but now operates across Europe and as far afield as Australia.

By Sean O’Neill, The Times, 23 December 2020

Read more at The Times

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