A career criminal who trafficked drugs and dirty cash between Ireland and the Netherlands has been jailed for 21 years, following a National Crime Agency investigation.
Paul O’Brien, 56, from Uxbridge, west London, was identified as part of Operation Venetic – the UK’s response to the takedown of the encrypted communications platform EncroChat.
He was found to have worked with 42-year-old Thomas Maher, who in December 2020 was sentenced to more than 14 years in prison for facilitating the movement of drugs and cash across Europe.
Arrangements for transporting the cocaine and 900,000 euros in cash were discovered in EncroChat messages between Maher and O’Brien, who was using the handle ‘ONEDIAMONDGEE’ on the encrypted network.
Conversations between the pair evidenced that on the morning of 4 April 2020, two vehicles – a HGV and a car – had met near the village of Uddel in the Netherlands and exchanged the drugs – which could have been worth up to £1 million if sold in the UK.
Maher notified O’Brien that their couriers had successfully brought the cocaine into the UK later that day, and arrangements were made for it to be collected in Ireland.
On 10 April, Maher organised for 300,000 euros, belonging to O’Brien, to be collected near Louth in Ireland and transported to the Netherlands by car.
A month later, on 11 May, a second pick-up of 600,000 euros was arranged by Maher for O’Brien, again to be taken by couriers from Ireland to the Netherlands.
The exchange took place at a bus station in Drogheda before Garda officers conducting a surveillance operation moved in to intercept the cash and arrest couriers Jason Reed, 42, Thomas Rooney, 53, and Catherine Dawson, 46.
O’Brien was identified as the ‘ONEDIAMONDGEE’ user after his EncroChat device was seized on 29 May 2020 when he was arrested by Metropolitan Police officers at his Uxbridge home. NCA investigators later arrested him for the cocaine and cash trafficking conspiracy.
He subsequently pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit a crime abroad, and at Isleworth Crown Court on 3 November a judge sentenced him to 21 years imprisonment.
Martin Clarke, senior investigating officer at the National Crime Agency, said: “O’Brien is an established organised crime figure, as shown by his ability to join forces with a hugely influential drug trafficker like Thomas Maher. Together, they moved cocaine and hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash across Europe.
“The crucial evidence obtained from his EncroChat handset laid bare O’Brien’s trafficking operation, leaving him with no option but to plead guilty.
“The NCA is committed to targeting the controllers of international organised crime, who think they can distance themselves from their illegal activity and evade justice.
“As Maher and now O’Brien have found, there is no limit to our determination to pursue those who see themselves as criminal kingpins and bring them to account.”
Thomas Maher came onto the NCA’s radar during the investigation into the deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals in a lorry in Purfleet in October 2019. The tractor unit involved was previously owned by Maher, and was still registered in his wife’s name after it was sold.
A separate NCA investigation later unearthed the full extent of his transportation network, which spanned Europe moving illegal commodities for organised criminals.
In May 2023, he was ordered to pay back more than £630,000 in criminal profits following a financial investigation by the NCA.
04 November 2023