Gardaí will work with Spanish police to establish if a handgun seized during the arrest of John Gilligan is the same weapon used to murder journalist Veronica Guerin.
Gilligan (68) is detained in a jail in Alicante this weekend after his arrest in Spain on Tuesday.
Dramatic footage of the raid was released by Spanish police where Gilligan can be seen lying face down before he is handcuffed.
A Colt Python revolver was found buried in the garden of the Costa Blanca villa where Gilligan was arrested.
Spanish police say it is the same make and model as the gun used to kill Ms Guerin in June 1996.
Ballistics experts from the Garda Síochána and Spanish police forces will now exchange key technical information to determine if the weapon found is the same one used to kill the Sunday Independent journalist.
“An Garda Síochána is working closely with the Spanish National Police in relation to this investigation,” a Garda spokesperson confirmed.
Gilligan was cleared of masterminding Ms Guerin’s murder in March 2001 after a 43-day trial, but was handed a 28-year prison sentence for importing a huge haul of cannabis resin. Senior sources last night told the Irish Independent that officers are “extremely sceptical” that the gun recovered this week by Spanish police was the weapon used to murder Ms Guerin.
“I guess in this world you cannot rule anything out, but I would be absolutely amazed if that gun was the weapon used in that murder 24 years ago and this is the view of pretty much all my colleagues,” one senior officer said.
The weapon seized by Spanish police was confiscated during raids sparked by the operation launched last year against a suspected drug smuggling gang.
Police said the gang had allegedly been smuggling marijuana and tranquilliser-type pills, popular on the black market, through the post from Spain to the UK and Ireland.
Five other people including a British woman were arrested and released on bail pending an ongoing criminal probe, but were banned from leaving Spain.
A Spanish National Police spokesman did not name Gilligan in their statement but said: “Investigators managed to intercept four postal deliveries in Spain in which four kilos of marijuana and 15,000 pills had been hidden.
“The well-known Irish criminal who allegedly headed the organisation was sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2001 and served 17 years.
“Irish investigators linked his organisation to the murder of the Irish journalist.”
A court official, confirming Gilligan had been remanded in custody on Thursday after appearing before a duty judge in a closed court hearing in the Costa Blanca town of Torrevieja, added: “All six suspects are being investigated as part of a criminal probe opened for crimes against public health, unlawful possession of firearms and membership of a criminal gang.”
Gilligan has not yet been formally charged with any crime as charges are only laid shortly before trial in Spain.
Gilligan’s arrest has dealt a hammer blow to the criminal’s attempt to reassert himself as a serious player in organised crime in Ireland.
The Irish Independent can reveal that Gilligan and his associates are suspected of supplying a number of gangs including associates of the so-called Finglas based ‘Monkey gang’ with quantities of cannabis herb through the postal system.
“You are talking about quantities of weed – not on the biggest scale. Amounts up to 15 kilos or so, but the operation was getting bigger all the time. Pills were also being sent in as well,” a senior source said.
“The cannabis herb that was being sent to the criminal organisations in Dublin from Spain was then being distributed among other gangs across the entire country, especially in the midlands.”
The source also revealed Gilligan’s suspected recent involvement in illegal arms trading. “Gilligan has been attempting to use the postal system to get guns into Ireland for his associates which shows that he really believed that he was operating in the big league again. Some of these weapons have got into Ireland and gardaí have had success in getting them off the street,” the source said.
Source: Irish News