A U.S. businessman has been funding the Real IRA, the dissident republican organization responsible for killing two British soldiers last week, in an elaborate cigarette smuggling operation, federal prosecutors in Miami say.
Roman Vidal, 57, who runs a freight company, was arraigned March 5 by a federal grand jury in Miami, on charges of smuggling, and of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.
It is alleged that Vidal smuggled 13.3 million cigarettes to Europe, avoiding $4 million in excise duties, in an operation that involved at least five countries, including Britain and Ireland.
Court documents say that on at two separate occasions, Vidal smuggled around 13.3 million cigarettes in shipments, one to Dublin to criminals connected with the Real IRA, the other to Felixstone, in the U.K. The first shipment was made in December 2005.
“During the course of the investigation, evidence has indicated that some of these associates were connected to the group, Real IRA,” says Immigration and Customs Enforcement senior special agent, Robert Manzanares, in the criminal complaint.
When the cigarettes landed in Dublin, Vidal’s Irish contacts paid only $2,900 in tariffs – saving them $2.1 million in taxes. The shipments of cigarettes were allegedly hidden under wooden flooring and insulation material, to be then sold on the lucrative cigarette black market in Ireland.
It is unclear as to how many shipments were made in total. But the money alone from the two shipments would possibly have made the Real IRA millions of dollars.
Agents say that Vidal’s criminal enterprise involved a “criminal organization that has associates operating in Spain, Ireland, and other European countries, as well as in the Southern District of California.”
Special Agent Manzanares said that inquiries were ongoing in Ireland, north and south. The U.S district attorney for Southern California, R. Alexander Acosta, thanked law enforcement agencies in a number of countries, including Ireland.
However, a spokesman from the Gardai, the Irish police, was unable to say which Irish law enforcement agency was involved in the case.
Soldiers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar were killed by Real IRA gunmen as they waited for a pizza delivery car in Co. Antrim on Saturday, March 7. Their deaths mark the first time in over 12 years since a British soldier had been killed in Northern Ireland. Two other soldiers and the two pizza delivery men were seriously wounded in the attack, in which around 60 rounds were fired.
And just 48 hours later, a police officer in Northern Ireland was killed by another dissident republican group, the Continuity IRA.
The sudden outbreak of violence has threatened to derail the Northern Ireland peace process, sparking fears that the province would return to days once referred to as “The Troubles,” which cost the lives of 3,600 people.