Man who smuggled €8.4 million worth of cocaine into Ireland gets 11 years in prison

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A man who smuggled €8.4 million (£7.1 million) of cocaine from France to Ireland has been sentenced to 11 years in prison.

The company’s 56-year-old former director, Tim Gilchrist, of Mavis Bank, Newrath in County Waterford, was arrested with 120kg of drugs in his car after landing a Cessna aircraft at Abbeyshrule Aerodrome in County Longford on August 4, 2022.

The father-of-one claimed he was using the plane for “recreational flying” and that he smuggled the drugs under duress after two men threatened his daughter.

Irish broadcaster RTÉ reported that the court heard that no customs officials were present at Dieppe airport in France or at Abbeyshrule in Longford.

Defence lawyer Michael O’Higgins told the court there was “a completely open corridor” for smuggling, which Judge Keenan Johnson described as “extraordinary”.

Judge Johnson called for significant improvements in security, including 24-hour checks, adding that the country was “unacceptably exposed” to the importation of large quantities of drugs.

Tim Gilchrist pictured in a white shirt entering the courtroom with a silver car in the backgroundTim Gilchrist pictured in a white shirt entering the courtroom with a silver car in the background

Tim Gilchrist admitted drug smuggling but claimed he did so under duress (RTÉ)

The court heard that Gilchrist flew to France on August 3, 2022, returning to Longford at 5:25pm local time the following day with cocaine worth €8.4 million.

He drove away with the drugs in an Alfa Romeo, but was followed by Garda (Irish police) officers at Lough Owel, near Mullingar.

They searched the car and found 120 kilos of cocaine, spread over five black bags and a suitcase.

Detective Inspector Ciaran Cummins told the court that Gilchrist claimed during questioning that two men had come to his house a month earlier and because they knew he could fly a plane, they told him he would do something for them.

Gilchrist said he told them he was “going to the guards,” but the men said if he didn’t cooperate he would “have another problem” and that his daughter was being threatened.

He said he had “no choice” and was told to buy a mobile phone and fly to France.

The police checked his story, but it turned out not to be convincing.

Six green cocaine packages displayed on a wooden table with a Garda National Drugs banner and badge in the backgroundSix green cocaine packages displayed on a wooden table with a Garda National Drugs banner and badge in the background

The cocaine was worth €8.4 million (£7.1 million) (An Garda Síochána)

The court also heard that Gilchrist had two mobile phones, one of which he had purchased two months before his arrest and which he used exclusively for the smuggling operation.

He sent and received messages from people before landing at Longford Airport on August 4. A man named Sam warned him: “There are a lot of boys around, be careful.”

Judge Johnson said Gilchrist was knowingly involved in drug trafficking for financial gain and the court felt compelled to impose a significant sentence.

He said Gilchrist provided limited assistance to the investigation after he was caught red-handed.

Gilchrist had provided no material assistance to the “masterminds” behind the importation, but his “omerta” was not surprising, Judge Johnson added.

The judge also said the court would not take into account “coercion” in determining the sentence, adding that it was clear Gilchrist was aware of what he was doing.

Gilchrist was sentenced to 11.5 years in prison, with the last six months suspended so he could rehabilitate and reintegrate into society.

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