The IRA used “apparently respectable” business entrepreneurs to build up a multi-million euro property empire across four countries during the Celtic Tiger boom.
Detectives suspect some of the funds were used to fund Sinn Fein political advances in the Republic and Northern Ireland.
These details have emerged through the whistle-blowing organization, WikiLeaks, on sensitive information routinely passed by Irish government officials to the US.
The Irish Independent has been publishing for more than a week many of 1,900 documents revealed in leaked U.S. Embassy cables.
Last week, the cables revealed the IRA leadership chose a “hard man” who shared a prison cell with hunger-striker Bobby Sands to issue a statement declaring peace so potential dissidents would understand the clear message.
This week, as secrets continue to unfold daily, the cables reveal the massive property and business empire run by the IRA through links between Ireland, Bulgaria and Britain.
Separately, other shadowy businessmen were suspected by Gardai (police) of opening bank accounts and registering companies in Bulgaria in a bid to create “money-laundering vehicles” for the Provos.
The businessmen were suspected of teaming up with corrupt Bulgarian criminal gangs as part of a plan to launder millions on behalf of the IRA.
In one dispatch of embassy documents obtained through WikiLeaks, a senior Garda officer briefed U.S. diplomats that, during the boom years, the IRA diversified away from smuggling, robbery and racketeering and into “more sophisticated business enterprises.”
The Independent reports that the unnamed businessmen listed in the cables are suspected of being formerly “active” members of the IRA who have since avoided being publicly linked to the Provisional movement. They amassed huge fortunes, particularly in the property and construction sectors.
Despite remaining hugely sympathetic to the IRA, these figures stayed away from public events such as commemorations so that their links to the Provisionals would not be obvious to Gardai and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
The businessmen helped the Provisionals amass a multi-million euro residential and commercial property empire by investing in portfolios in Dublin, London, Spain and Bulgaria.
Authorities in Dublin feared much of the profits were being used to fund Sinn Fein’s political activities in the Republic.
Details of the extent of the Provisional portfolio were revealed by a senior Garda intelligence officer during a briefing for U.S. Embassy officials in Dublin in July 2005.
The intelligence officer is named in a “confidential” leaked cable sent by then-U.S. Ambassador James Kenny to the State Department in Washington.
The officer said IRA money was constantly moving and flowing from diversified sources into wide-ranging investments, the dispatch said.
The cable also detailed how Gardai were pursuing the Bulgarian links to the IRA.
This aspect of the Garda investigation into the IRA’s foreign investments sparked a furious diplomatic row involving the Bulgarian ambassador to Ireland. She told U.S. Embassy officials there was no evidence of criminal involvement by Bulgarians in the money-laundering case.
The cables also show the information U.S. Embassy staff fed back to Washington was not confined to the big issues. They were keen to find out what was happening in the investigations into the £26.5 million sterling Northern Bank robbery in Belfast in 2005.
They also focused on individual cases like the murder in Glenties, Co. Donegal, of outed spy Denis Donaldson, and the attempts to extradite former Official IRA leader Sean Garland, who was suspected of being a U.S. currency counterfeiter.
Leaked cables also included warnings from the U.S. government that Ireland would be seen as a “haven for terrorists” unless it extradited the Colombia Three, IRA men jailed for 17 years after they fled Bogota when it was alleged they were training FARC rebels.
Undocumented Irish people in the U.S. were given very strong backing by former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen when he addressed the issue with then Ambassador Tom Foley in June, 2008.
Foley, in a “confidential” cable, told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Cowen stressed the special relationship between the two countries was a result of generations of Irish working in the U.S., some of whom had stayed and others who had returned to Ireland.
Foley told Washington, “He said he would be concerned if that flow stopped for 10 or 12 years.”
Cowen was reported to have said the “unresolved issue” could affect “bilateral relations” in the future if young Irish no longer had the opportunity to go to America to work.
Foley’s cable made it clear he was impressed by Cowen’s direct approach, but he still couldn’t give the Irish government leader any assurances the U.S. would do anything to help the status of the 50,000 Irish estimated to be living illegally in America.
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