Man who trafficked drugs and dirty cash between Ireland and the Netherlands is jailed for 21 years

Man who trafficked drugs and dirty cash between Ireland and the Netherlands is jailed for 21 years

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 (NCA) investigation.

Paul O'Brien, 56, from Uxbridge, west London, was found to have worked with 42-year-old Irish drug trafficker Thomas Maher.

In December 2020, Maher — who became known to authorities investigating the death of 39 Vietnamese nationals in a lorry in 2019 — was sentenced to more than 14 years in prison for facilitating the movement of drugs and cash across Europe.

O'Brien was sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court on Friday, having previously pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit a crime abroad.

"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," said Martin Clarke, senior investigating officer at the NCA.

"Together, they moved cocaine and hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash across Europe."

Louth pick-up

O'Brien was identified by NCA investigators as part of Operation Venetic — Britain's response to the takedown of the encrypted communications platform EncroChat.

EncroChat messages between Maher and O'Brien — who used the handle 'ONEDIAMONDGEE' — revealed arrangements had been made for the transportation of 10kg of cocaine and €900,000.

Conversations between the pair showed that on the morning of April 4, 2020, two vehicles had met near the village of Uddel in the Netherlands and exchanged cocaine with a street value of £1m.

Maher then notified O'Brien that their couriers had successfully brought the drugs into Britain later that day and arrangements were made for it to be transported to Ireland for collection.

Six days later, Maher organised for €300,000 intended for O'Brien to be collected in Co. Louth and transported to the Netherlands by car.

A month later, on May 11, a second pick-up of €600,000 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 a garda surveillance moved in to intercept the cash and arrest couriers Jason Reed, 42, Thomas Rooney, 53, and Catherine Dawson, 46.

O'Brien used the EncroChat handle 'ONEDIAMONDGEE' (Image: NCA)

O'Brien was identified as the 'ONEDIAMONDGEE' user after his EncroChat device was seized on May 29, 2020 after he was arrested by officers from the Met Police 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 Friday, a judge sentenced him to 21 years' imprisonment.

Maher, meanwhile, came onto the NCA's radar during the investigation into the deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals in a lorry in Purfleet, Essex during a people-smuggling operation 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.

'Crucial evidence'

Speaking after Friday's sentencing, Mr Clarke of the NCA said they would continue to pursue those like O'Brien and Maher, who see themselves as 'criminal kingpins'.

"The crucial evidence obtained from his EncroChat handset laid bare O'Brien's trafficking operation, leaving him with no option but to plead guilty," he said.

"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."