Why the clan left town

Ireland’s Kinahan clan has recently been in the news after moves by authorities in the United States to close the net on them for alleged crimes linked to drug trafficking, a development which appears likely to affect their involvement in the boxing industry. For a while, this notorious family had a base on Spain’s Costa del Sol, which became one of the venues for a series of tit-for-tat killings. In 2018, I wrote the following piece looking at how and why the Kinahans had left Spain for the relative safety of Dubai:

It’s summertime and along the Costa del Sol the bars and restaurants are thriving, the beaches are packed and the motorboats glide across the Mediterranean. But things are not quite the way they used to be in this corner of southern Spain: the Kinahans aren’t around.

The Irish crime clan, led by Christy Kinahan Sr, operated in and around the Spanish city of Marbella for over a decade, using it as a base for one of the biggest drug-trafficking operations in Europe and relishing the sun-soaked lifestyle. But a violent feud and the police investigations it triggered have forced the family’s leading figures out of Spain altogether.

Boxer Tyson Fury (left) with Daniel Kinahan.

The killing in a bar in Elviria, near Marbella, of Gerard ‘Hatchet’ Kavanagh, in 2014, signalled that the violence of Dublin’s drug turf wars had spread to Spain. Then, in 2015, another target of the Kinahans, drug dealer and armed robber Gary Hutch, was gunned down beside a swimming pool in a communal area of an apartment complex near Marbella. The following summer, Irishman Trevor O’Neill, who had no involvement in the feud or criminal background, was shot dead in front of his wife and children in Mallorca by a gunman who was trying to kill a member of the Hutch family.

Hutch, like his uncle Gerry, had once been an associate of the Kinahans, before joining their hitlist. But his murder in particular, for which Dubliner James Quinn was recently given a 22-year jail sentence by a Spanish court, made Spain a much more dangerous place for Christy Kinahan and his sons, Daniel and Christy Jr.

“They have to take their precautions,” says one source, from the Spanish police’s elite unit investigating organised crime (known as GRECO), who says the feud has made the Kinahans targets. “It’s not always enough simply to have a bodyguard, so they had to find a safer environment.”

This source says the last time he knows of Christy Kinahan Sr being in Spain was in the winter of 2016, when he was seen eating in a restaurant with members of his family. 

Christy Jr, meanwhile, is believed to have come in and out of Spain quite regularly until a few months ago. Police sources say he was stopped in Frankfurt airport last year while travelling to Málaga on a false passport. Although German police detained him, he was allowed to travel onward on an emergency document but changed plans and did not fly to Málaga.

Daniel Kinahan, meanwhile, is believed to be avoiding Spain altogether – possibly because of fears the Spanish police would pounce with evidence to bring charges against him.

The police pressure triggered by the violence in Spain has been as problematic for the Kinahans as the hazards of the feud itself.

“It was the worst business move ever to kill Gary Hutch,” says one police source who has been involved in investigating the clan.

“Once you start killing in public spaces, governments are going to get involved.”

Criminal organisations from Ireland, the UK and many other countries have long been active on the Costa del Sol and it was an attractive base of operations for the likes of the Kinahans due to its proximity to the western Mediterranean’s drug superhighway, its large international underworld and, of course, the sunshine.

But the spate of killings alarmed the Spanish authorities and prompted a commitment to smash international crime on the Costa from the very top of the country’s law enforcement. Cooperation with the Irish Garda was ramped up. Spain’s civil guard and national police, which in the past have been known to have an at times antagonistic relationship, have improved their intelligence sharing and overall cooperation to unprecedented levels over the last three years or so while working on the Kinahan investigation.

The conviction of Quinn is a direct result of the Spanish and Irish forces working together and is seen as major coup. As a senior figure in the Kinahan organisation, who enjoyed taking over Marbella nightclubs and shipping dozens of friends over at a time from Dublin for parties, his absence is notable.

After leaving Spain, Christy Kinahan Sr and his sons were believed to have set up a new base in Dubai, although stricter regulations for ex-pats there, introduced earlier this year, could be problematic for them. Meanwhile, the whereabouts of their nemesis Gerry Hutch, who used to visit Lanzarote regularly, are unknown.

But while Quinn is in jail and the Kinahans are no longer based in Spain, their influence can still be seen in much of the operational structure they set up, which included partnerships with Colombian and Dutch gangs.

“Apart from the family itself they have a lot of associates,” says the source from the GRECO police unit. “One thing is for them to have left but that doesn’t mean the organisation itself has been dismantled.”

In May, four Irish nationals were stopped in southern Spain while driving 3.4m euros worth of cannabis hidden among lettuces in a lorry headed for Dublin. Garda Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll hailed the “ongoing and very productive cooperation” between the Irish and Spanish police which led directly to the swoop.

Police involved in the case say that those arrested did not seem to be under the direct command of the Kinahans but they may have had indirect links to the clan’s activities. 

While drug-trafficking continues on the Costa del Sol, the Kinahan-related violence appears to have stopped. Spain has not seen any Irish gang killings since the Mallorca death in 2016. Although the Spanish and Irish police continue to monitor organised crime closely, there is a feeling that for the authorities in Madrid, the issue is no longer such a pressing one.

“The reality is that there haven’t been any killings in mainland Spain since 2015 so maybe that’s why it’s no longer a priority,” says the police source involved in investigating the Kinahans.

Also, a recent spike in drug-related violence between local gangs further west along Spain’s southern coast, near Gibraltar, has meant that police resources have been spread thinly. 

“The Costa del Sol could be the place in the world with the highest density of gangsters,” says the GRECO source. “So of course [the Kinahans] are important, but so are a lot of others.”

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