The arrest of a man believed by international law enforcement to be a key cartel financier has further tightened the grip on the Kinahan hierarchy as it strives to shore up its cash system.
Ardaí believes John Morrissey, described by Europol as one of the continent’s biggest money launderers, is an important link between cartel boss Daniel Kinahan and his associates.
The 62-year-old’s arrest was filmed by police as he sat shirtless and in colorful shorts on the sofa in his lavish Malaga home, where he continued to live openly despite pressure from agencies global crime control.
The unceremonious manner of his arrest is the least of Kinahan executives’ worries – sources say they have now lost one of their top fund managers.
Morrissey is believed to have laundered more than 200 million euros in just over a year and a half for various criminal gangs and is considered one of the main allies of the Kinahan cartel.
His position within the criminal organization was confirmed last April when he was slapped with financial sanctions by the US government for his ties to the Kinahan, along with six other senior members of the cartel.
The Guardia Civil estimates that Morrissey laundered more than €200 million in 18 months, or around €350,000 a day
As he sits in a Spanish jail cell waiting to hear what charges he might face, efforts are already underway to keep cash flowing.
“Morrissey is the man doing the payroll,” a source said. “If you need money, he is the link, and if you need money for Dubai, you go to him. But without Morrissey, that link is closed – for now at least.
“It will cause problems for foot soldiers in Dublin, Birmingham, Manchester or wherever, who obviously won’t be happy if they don’t get paid. And for Kinahan himself, who will worry about his own cash flow.
“He needs the money to stay ahead of the game and keep the show going. When that stops, he’ll be in serious trouble, and they’ll probably already be trying to fix that.
As Kinahan attempts to avoid prosecution, efforts continue to bring charges against him for organized crime-related offenses.
Morrissey’s arrest is the first among the Kinahan Seven, but law enforcement is confident it won’t be the last.
The gang’s hierarchy remains in Dubai as they attempt to stay out of the reach of law enforcement in Europe and the United States – including ringleader Daniel, his brother Christopher Jr and their father Christy Sr.
Another senior partner, Crumlin man Sean McGovern, is also in the Middle East. Gardaí seeks to indict him for murder and organized crimes.
The other two members of the Kinahan Seven are Ian Dixon, suspected of acting as the cartel’s accountant, and Bernard Clancy, a key lieutenant assigned by Daniel Kinahan to pay salaries to cartel members.
While Morrissey shot to worldwide prominence in April when he appeared on the US government’s sanctions list, he had been linked to organized crime in Ireland and the UK for four decades and was one early targets of the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab).
Even the investigation that led to his arrest on Monday predates his designation by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC).
Early last year, around 200kg of cocaine and €500,000 in cash were found hidden in cars in Malaga, and Morrissey came to the attention of Spanish police.
Since then, the Guardia Civil estimates that Morrissey has laundered more than €200 million in 18 months, or around €350,000 a day.
The Kinahans were not his only affiliation, and police believe he cleaned up dirty money from several different criminal groups. Spanish authorities have described him as a ‘high-value target’ and ‘the biggest’ money launderer there, while Europol believe he was one of the biggest launderers in Europe silver.
Officials said it was done via the “Hawala” method – an informal way of transferring money without any real money being moved.
From an ancient Middle Eastern trading system that used brokers to securely deliver funds, today’s criminal gangs use code numbers or tokens to ensure the safe transfer of money.
The Guardia Civil says there is no legal record of these operations or identification of the customers, while the origin and destination of the funds are also unknown.
“For this reason, they are used by criminal organizations around the world, as well as terrorist groups, to hide profits of illicit origin or to send them to tax havens,” the forcey said.
Europol also said Nero Drinks Company Limited, a premium vodka brand operated by Morrissey, is being used to conceal the source of its income.
Nero Vodka was launched publicly during the Covid pandemic, in December 2020, according to Morrissey living openly in Spain. The company was also designated by OFAC in April.
US officials believe that a significant portion of this business was given to Daniel Kinahan by Morrissey to compensate for seized drug shipments.
The alleged financier is currently in custody while a judge conducts an investigation.
His arrest in Operation Whitewall was one of four made in Spain and the UK, while 11 searches were also carried out.
On Monday, police also recovered vehicles with funds inside, cash, documents and electronic devices, which they say are “of great interest to the investigation” and could lead to future arrests.
An arrested suspect ran a car dealership and is believed to be responsible for supplying the criminal organization with vehicles with concealed compartments used to transport large sums of cash.
The ‘day of action’, led by the Guardia Civil and Europol, also involved the UK’s National Crime Agency, the DEA, the Dutch police and the gardaí, who were present for the operation.
Live investigations are also continuing, with growing efforts to disrupt drug smuggling networks from Dubai and Spain to Ireland and the UK.