An Irish businessman suspected of smuggling drugs into Ireland for nearly three decades is behind bars in a Spanish police cell following his arrest which was linked to the discovery of €6 million of cannabis aboard the Irish-registered yacht Colin Hannah.

Alan Buckley, 53, was arrested with his Cork-born girlfriend, Lorna Bowes-Busteed, 48, a widow and mother of two, on the Costa Del Sol hours after armed Spanish navy officers boarded the Colin Hannah off Cadiz and arrested two British nationals.

The capture of drugs on the yacht, which left Morocco just hours earlier, and the arrests followed a nine-month top-secret operation called Ciana which involved customs authorities and three police forces -- the gardai in Ireland, and the British and Spanish police forces.

Operation Ciana involved detailed surveillance of boat movements between Spain and North Africa.

Buckley, a high-profile figure in Cork and a former owner of an antique store in Kinsale, had been living mainly in a luxury home in Marbella for the past two years.

His girlfriend, Bowes-Busteed, who came from a respectable business family in Cork, had been with him for about two years and was known as a party-lover.

A luxury home owned outside Cork by Buckley was targeted a decade ago by the Criminal Assets Bureau which traces and seizes financial resources of suspected criminals.

The 38 foot Colin Hannah was believed to have been destined for Ireland with its illicit drugs cargo when it was boarded in Spanish territorial waters.

Bowes-Busteed is a member of the highly-respected Bowes business family, best known for its links to the construction, development and golf industries.

She is the widow of Richard “Dick” Busteed, one of the best-known publicans in Cork. Together they were regular faces at yachting, golfing and equestrian events in Cork, as well as a variety of business and charity dinners.

Drugs squad sources said Spanish authorities are expected to release Bowes-Busteed without charge.

Under Spanish anti-drugs regulations, Buckley can be held on remand for up to three months before being charged or released.

Garda National Drugs Unit sources said Buckley was first targeted as a suspected criminal in the early1990s when he was believed to be a logistics coordinator for a gang involved in some of the biggest drugs shipments into Ireland.

One senior detective said, “He always prided himself as remaining out of reach. Whenever there was a major seizure we would never seem to link him to it.”

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