The Daily Telegraph
Former bouncer ‘who laundered €200m’ arrested on Costa del Sol
‘High-value target’ and alleged kingpin for Irish criminal cartel nicknamed Johnny Cash held at home
A BOUNCER turned gangland enforcer for Ireland’s most notorious criminal cartel has been arrested in Spain in a raid to catch “one of Europe’s biggest money launderers”.
Johnny Morrissey, known as Johnny Cash for the wads of bank notes he carried with him, is suspected of laundering more than €200 million (£174million) in the last 18 months for the Kinahan gang, a criminal network whose leadership have been in hiding from European and US authorities.
The 62-year-old, an Irish passport holder, who grew up in Greater Manchester, was described as one of Europol’s “high-value targets” after he was detained at his Costa del Sol home in a joint operation by the Spanish Civil Guard, Irish Garda and the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
The arrest comes five months after he was identified as one of seven key members of the cartel, with US authorities singling out Mr Morrissey as an “enforcer” who helped play a key role in bringing shipments of cocaine from South America to Europe.
The alleged kingpin earned his fierce reputation as a gangland hitman, according to former members of the Irish authorities. He earned his nickname when he set up a restaurant in Cork in the 1990s, where he was known to pay for everything in cash – including the €600,000 bill for its refurbishment.
In Spain, he was well known for courting minor celebrities at his mansion in the Costa del Sol. His wife, Nicola Morrissey, chief executive of a Scottish vodka firm, was also detained as part of Wednesday’s raid.
Their arrests began to close in April this year when Mr Morrissey was named by the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control alongside six others as alleged ringleaders of the Kinahan cartel.
The crime group’s leadership, which has links to the Mexican drug cartel led by El Chapo, have been forced to flee to the Middle East after European and American authorities issued warrants for their arrests.
The hunt for Mr Kinahan, the cartel’s main leader, his father Christy, brother Christopher Jr and their associates, was intensified when the US offered a $15million (£13million) bounty for information leading to their capture.
The gang’s leadership is stranded in the Middle East because of sanctions, which have prevented them from boarding commercial airliners.
Daniel, 45, its leader, propelled the family organisation to international notoriety after helping to broker a heavyweight boxing clash between British fighters Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, which eventually collapsed.
Spanish detectives revealed Mr Morrissey had used the hawala underground banking system, which works on the base of face-to-face transactions to launder the vast sums of cash on behalf of the gang.
“The Civil Guard, through an operation dubbed Whitewall, has smashed the most important international criminal organisation that operated in Spain dedicated to money laundering,” a spokesman for the Spanish law enforcers said. “In a little over a year and a half they could have laundered more than €200 million through the system known as hawala.”
Detectives said the starting point for the raid was the seizure of some €500,000 in cash hidden in vehicles with “sophisticated concealment systems” and 200 kilos of cocaine last year.
“The main target in Spain devoted himself to collecting large amounts of money in cash from criminal organisations operating in our country and handing it through the hawala system to organised criminal groups in other countries and vice-versa,” Spanish police said, without referring to Mr Morrissey.
“Investigators were able to corroborate that during the time the investigation lasted, he allegedly managed to transfer more than €200million.”
Morrissey was arrested without a shirt inside his mansion, police images show, with cash seized in the house alongside a machete.