Alleged head of drug gang '˜spent almost £500,000 on jewellery'

The alleged head of an organised drugs gang led a 'lavish' lifestyle involving nearly £500,000 spent on jewellery, the High Court has heard.

Prosecutors claimed an investigation into Patrick O’Connor and his associates discovered luxury cars, Rolex watches, a diamond ring and almost another £130,000 going on foreign travel.

Details emerged as the 48-year-old, from Stoneypath in Londonderry, applied for bail on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to supply cannabis and cocaine.

His application was adjourned after a judge said the offer of a £5,000 cash surety was “not nearly enough”.

O’Connor faces a total of 17 charges, which also include possessing, concealing and converting criminal property, between August 2016 and June 2017.

The alleged offences are connected to police operations in Armagh and Omagh where cannabis valued at up to £200,000 and cash amounts of £171,000 and £410,000 were seized.

Although O’Connor was not present at any of the locations, Crown lawyer Natalie Pinkerton claimed he is linked by telephone evidence.

She contended that he controlled the activities and was in contact with co-accused from Bulgaria.

“He’s said to be the head of an organised crime gang,” Ms Pinkerton submitted.

The court was told O’Connor and his wife have purchased in excess of £456,000 worth of high-value jewellery from a Belfast store since 2010.

According to the prosecutor searches carried out at the couple’s home revealed further evidence of a “lavish lifestyle”.

Police seized a £26,000 diamond ring and Rolex watches worth £19,500 and £12,500.

An auctioneer has estimated all of the luxury items could be resold for a total £163,000, but the prosecution claimed their combined value at the time of purchase was £304,000.

Information from two travel companies also showed the extent of trips abroad by O’Connor and his associates, it was claimed.

Since 2011 £97,000 was spent at one firm in Armagh, including nearly £20,000 on a honeymoon and a deposit on a further cruise planned in August.

A further £31,000 had been paid to another travel company in Londonderry between 2013 and 2016 – allegedly either by O’Connor or co-accused.

At the time of his arrest the defendant and his wife were both driving Audi Q5 SUVs with a combined value of just over £91,000, the court heard.

Ms Pinkerton said evidence showed Patrick O’Connor had also ordered a BMW X5 priced at £66,000.

A review of his financial accounts revealed cash and credit in excess of £283,000, she added.

“HMRC have no record of him being in employment in the last year,” the barrister said.

“In the previous year he owned a supplement shop in Derry which has not been showing excessive profit.”

Stressing that O’Connor has no criminal record for drugs offences, defence counsel Andrew Moriarty argued that other co-accused were granted bail.

Asked how much money his client was prepared to lodge in court as a surety, the barrister confirmed a sum of £5,000 was available.

But Mr Justice McCloskey responded: “That’s not nearly enough.”

As he adjourned the application, he added: “The availability of a very substantial cash guarantee would be a significant matter in the applicant’s favour.”