24 Sep, 2023 @ 12:03
4 mins read

EXCLUSIVE: At home with an Irish mafia kingpin, whose new life planned for Spain was – like most expats – anything but plain sailing, not helped by a €21k cash seizure at the airport

LEGENDARY crime boss John Gilligan, 71, avoided prison for trafficking marijuana in flip flops and gun possession after cutting a deal with Spanish prosecutors this month. 

The Irish mafia don – suspected of ordering the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin – did a plea bargain earning him a lenient 22-month suspended sentence with a fine of just €14,000.

The gang leader moved to Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca following a failed assassination plot against him in 2014. He had just served a 17-year stretch over a long drug smuggling operation that netted him €35 million.

But, while one might have expected the grandfather to settle down quietly and live the easy life on the costas, things turned out rather differently.

In an extract from a book, The Gilligan Tapes, exclusively serialised in the Olive Press, he recalls to author Jason O’Toole how his move to Alicante was plagued by Spanish bureaucracy after being caught with a suitcase stashed with tens of thousands of euros.

The Gilligan Tapes – by Jason O’Toole is out now from Merrion Press, available from online booksellers and as a kindle ebook

By Jason O’Toole

John Gilligan miraculously managed to maintain a relatively low profile between 2014 and 2018 – no mean feat for a criminal once considered public enemy number one. 

He escaped lightly, with only the occasional screaming tabloid headline about him being down on his luck and hiding in England. 

The only other time Gilligan’s name popped up during this five­-year time frame was when it was alleged that he had threatened an English solicitor during a heated discussion over money.

But, apart from these two episodes, things were quiet for him on the Costa Blanca, where Gilligan had relocated.

Away from the eagle eyes of the Gardai and the Irish media, Gilligan had grand notions about getting back into his old business: smuggling hash. 

It was clearly one of the reasons why he picked the drug-­infested city of Torrevieja, but Gilligan also went over there because his daughter Tracey had resided in that city for many years. She offered to put him up while he got back on his feet.

At the time, Tracey still owned a bar called (appropriately) The Judge’s Chambers.

Most bar receipts would simply thank you for your business, but the one at her bar couldn’t resist a quip with ‘The Jury’s still out’ printed on the bill. 

According to Gilligan, it all went south for him when he put together enough money for the deposit to rent a villa for himself and girlfriend Sharon, 61. 

Gilligan pulls a pint of Budweiser in the expat haven of Torrevieja in Spain

The then 66­-year-­old was suddenly catapulted back into the limelight when arrested with a suitcase full of money at Belfast International Airport in October 2019.

Where did it all go wrong this time?

During a series of interviews at his home in Spain, Gilligan told me: “I was coming back to Spain. I had €8,000 to bring back with me. But a man owed me money for over three years. I spoke to him the day before I went back.

“‘Would you have the money what you owe me?’ I asked.

“‘I will have. I’m borrowing money off a sister of mine. She’s coming into a good few quid,’ he said. ‘Can you bring it over to me?’

“I asked for the money because I was going to rent a place for 12 months [in Spain]. “I was staying at my daughter’s and I promised her I’d only stay a few weeks.

“I’d been talking to an estate agent over in Spain and he said, ‘You can’t get a place because of who you are. 

“You’re high profile and you have no bank account in Spain and you have no NIE [Foreign Identity Number]. You will need 12 months up front in advance.’

“I said okay. He showed me three properties. I picked one. I said to myself, ‘When I go back with the €8,000 I’ll give it to him. Then when I get some more money I’ll give it to him and see if I can talk him into letting me have the property.’

Trial of Irish criminal John Gilligan suspended until New Year on Spain's Costa Blanca after co-defendant son fails to appear
John Gilligan

“I got up the morning I was leaving. I got some breakfast and showered and cleaned up. “My niece came and said, ‘Uncle John, a man’s after knocking at the door. And he said, there’s your €14,000.’

“So, I now had €22,000. I went to the North because there was no flight in Dublin. The flights in Northern Ireland were really cheap.

“I had the money in my suitcase. I didn’t get stopped by the customs, but when I was boarding the flight the woman [at the desk] said to me, ‘You’re not on this flight.’

“‘There’s me boarding pass,’ I said. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I think you’ll be taken off it.’
“And then she called the customs man and said, ‘Is this the man that you want to see?’

“And he said, ‘John Gilligan?’ I said yeah. ‘You got any money?’ I could’ve taken a chance, but I didn’t want to tell any lies.
“‘I have about €1,000 in me pocket, but I have €21,000 in the suitcase.’ ‘Where’s your suitcase?’ he said. ‘It’s on board. It’s for rent. I’ve the papers with it in me suitcase for the rental.’ “‘Come with us,’ he said.

“He was after saying to one customs officer, ‘Go down and get his case, right.’

“I only walked three minutes across the floor. So, by the time we got across the room the case was coming through the door – so they already had it. So, I was delighted I told the truth.

“‘Am I getting on the plane?’

“And he said no. A couple of customs officers said: ‘We think you’ll be getting your money back. Our boss has just gone to make another phone call to the Criminal Assets Bureau. 

“It’s them guys that’s picking on you. It’s them guys who want you locked up and the money taken off you. But you didn’t hear that from us.’

What happened next?

“They brought me to a police station and then brought me to court and got me held in custody. The maximum sentence for that was six months in prison. You got 50 per cent remission off. It should be only three months inside. But I was in prison for five-and-a- half months. I applied for bail 10 or 15 times.”

The Gilligan Tapes – by Jason O’Toole is out now from Merrion Press, available from online booksellers and as a kindle ebook

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