The Organised Crime Task Force report today that the largest ever haul of cannabis (Street value £mn's) has been seized at premises in Newtownards, Northern Ireland. Two men have been arrested.
UPDATE 11th October
Now said to be 4 tonnes with street value of £10 MN Euros 14.5 Mn. Local Strangford MP Iris Robinson congratulated those who had succeeded in keeping the huge haul off the streets. “It is not yet clear who was responsible for this criminal act or whether there was paramilitary involvement ..."
The NI Drugs Misuse Database Statistics were published yesterday for the period 1/4/2005 - 31/3/2006
The Ulster Defence Asociation (UDA) in Northern Ireland (which is a proscribed organisation) is divided into six areas and the leaders of each call themselves "brigadiers" including, Jackie McDonald who runs South Belfast , Matt Kinkaid who runs West Belfast, Billy McFarland who runs North Antrim and Londonderry elsewhere Andre Shoukri and his brother Ihab (31)(see picture of the brothers) has now been eased out to meet political diktats from London.
Back in November 2004, senior members of the UDA (a proscribed organisation) and their political representatives held tentative talks with senior officials from the Northern Ireland Office and the then Secretary of State Paul Murphy. (including the Shoukri's)
In the last 10 months these talks have intensified under immense pressure from Tony Blair and his senior advisors.
Publicly In July, senior members of the UDA, four of its so-called brigadiers, met Secretary of State Peter Hain and wannabe Deputy Prime Minister, and then travelled to Dublin to meet Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
NIO officials made it clear that the British government would respond if there was evidence of a genuine attempt by the UDA leadership to abandon terrorism and criminal activity....resulting in an announcement on Monday, 19 th September 2006 by Peter Hain that the government is giving £135,000 to a project aimed at helping the UDA move away from paramilitary activity and crime.
This "project" is the "first stage of a new conflict transformation initiative in loyalist areas", NI Secretary Peter Hain has announced. It was proposed by the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG), which advises the (still) illegal paramilitary Ulster Defence Association.
Part of the agreement for this funding , (a fraction of their proceeds from crime), (implicitly) involves the alienation and removal from the UDA of the Shoukri brothers , Andre and Ihab (The result of an Egyptian father and local girl) who held a firm grip on their territory in South Belfast.
Last month Ihab Shoukri 31, has denied being a member of the UDA, and earlier this month charges of UDA and UFF membership were dropped when a judge ruled that there wasn't enough evidence to convict him. (Which is just as well after they have been hobnobbing with Peter Hain and Teoseach) In a recent court case police said Andre Shoukri had gambled £863,000 in a Belfast bookmakers. Ihab had previously had a run in with the PNSI and was accused of the murdering a loyalist, Alan McCullough (an ally of Johnny Adair) though that charge was later dropped.
Andre who joined the UDA in the mid 1990's has appeared in court over the years for
1. His involvement in the death of Dubliner Gareth Parker who was run over by a car after being punched by Shoukri. He was found guilty of unlawful and malicious wounding and served eight months.
2. He was jailed for attempting to smuggle cigarettes in 1998.
3 Two years later he was jailed again for his part in a blackmail plot (extort protection money from Cathoic pizza shops), against a Catholic businessman.
4. During the 2002 UDA feud, that saw the end of Johnny Adair, Shoukri was arrested with a gun in his car. He was initially jailed for six years but the conviction was overturned on appeal.
5. Last June a PSNI inspector said the "Ye Olde Strathmore Inn" on the Belfast's, Cavehill Road, which was formerly known as "Bonaparte’s Bar", were “under the control of a paramilitary organisation”. The comments were made during a Belfast city council entertainments license application hearing by its then owner, Mandy Hillman.(now on th emainland under w itness protection program) - Both brothers were arrested in November last year after a woman approached the PSNI with information on illegal money making rackets being run by the north Belfast UDA.
“Having the PSNI take him off the streets saves us from doing it ourselves.” said a "well placed source". Probably not unconnected with the hurt that £10,000 raised at a charity boxing night went missing earlier this year. Challenged to explain Andre simply said "the money had gone".
The 12 th Independent Monitoring Commisiion report published last week, said ;
We said in our 10th Report that the UDA had continued to engage in acts of violence,
being responsible for both the paramilitary murders in the six months 1 September 2005 to 28 February 2006; that it was heavily involved in crime; that it continued to aspire to arm and equip itself; and the organisation remained an active threat to the rule of law..... there continues to be violence and a heavy involvement in crime amongst some members.
Members of the UDA remain heavily involved in a wide variety of other serious crime, including drug dealing, the sale of counterfeit goods, robbery and extortion.
But it did say something encouraging about this bunch of criminals and thugs...
We think that there is a genuine desire on the part of some leading members
to steer the organisation away from crime. So far they have had mixed success. The
expulsion of members of the North Belfast Brigade on the grounds of their criminal
activity (the Shukri's) and the subsequent avoidance of bloodshed was a valuable step forward;
Meanwhile the Organised Crime Task Force report today that the largest ever haul of cannabis 4 tonnes - street value £10 Mn.was seized at premises in Newtownards. Two men have been arrested.
PS. There are not many non - Loyalist criminals in Newtownards