Irish connection to major rhino horn thefts and smuggling ring
Two Irish brothers fined just 500 Euros for smuggling 8 rhino horns
March 2013. Two men from Ireland have been fined just €500 for smuggling 8 rhino horns worth almost €500,000 through Shannon Airport.
Brothers Jeremiah and Michael O'Brien were stopped in Shannon Airport after getting off a plane from Portugal. The defence told the court that the horns were antique, dating from the 1960s, and not from a freshly killed rhino. The brothers claimed that they acquired the horns from a Portuguese antique dealer named Hernandez, who entrusted the horns to the O'Briens ‘to mount them on a board' before returning with them to Portugal.
In a separate incident, another man from Limerick has been extradited to the UK in connection with the robbery of a rhino horn from an antique dealer. Michael Kealy is accused of stealing a rhino horn from an antique dealer in a Macdonald's car park.
In fact Europol have been investigating links between an Irish gang and rhino horn smuggling for at least 2 years. The investigation was launched after a spate of robberies around Europe where rhino horns were stolen from museums and antique dealers. The gang members are almost from the town Rathkeale, just south west of Limerick, in Ireland, which makes it all the more surprising that the O'Brien brothers, who also hail from Rathkeale, were find just 500 Euros for being in possession of 8 rhino horns.
Europol states "Significant players within this area of crime have been identified as an Irish and ethnically-Irish organised criminal group, who are known to use intimidation and violence to achieve their ends. To source and acquire rhino horns, the group has targeted antique dealers, auction houses, art galleries, museums, private collections and zoos, resorting to theft and aggravated burglary where necessary. To sell specimens, they have exploited international auction houses in the UK, France, USA and China. Elements of this group are also involved in a variety of other serious crimes across the European Union such as drugs trafficking, organised robbery, distribution of counterfeit products, tarmac fraud and money laundering. Outside the EU, they have been active in North and South America, South Africa, China and Australia."
Arrested in Switzerland
Two members of the gang were also arrested in Switzerland in 2012 in possession of counterfeit cash totalling 120,000 Euros, and they are also thought to have been under investigation in the USA in connection with the smuggling of rhino horns.