High Court reporter
The High Court has ruled that over €1 million of assets linked to an alleged senior member of the Kinahan organised crime gang, Ross Browning, were obtained with the proceeds of crime.
Mr Justice Alexander Owens said claims by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) that the assets were fully or partially acquired either directly or indirectly out of the proceeds of crime were justified by the evidence put before the court.
The assets were seized by CAB in 2018 from Mr Browning and several members of his family.
The assets include a property in Garristown in the Naul in north Co Dublin, lands in Rush and a house on Deanstown Road, Finglas, Dublin, as well as several motor vehicles, luxury watches, and jewellery. The items were seized from Garristown, and from addresses in Dublin's north inner city.
The judge said the evidence established "as a matter of probability, that Ross Browning has had an ongoing and significant involvement in organised crime for a significant number of years and is a senior member of the Kinahan organised crime gang".
This gang, he added, are "involved in the importation, and distribution of drugs and firearms in Ireland," and Mr Browning has associations with senior members of the Kinahan gang, including Stephen Fowler.
Ross Browning and his partner Sinead Mulhall had attended Daniel Kinahan's wedding in Dubai in 2017, and Christopher Kinahan Jnr's wedding in Spain in 2010, the judge said.
CAB had sought orders under the 1996 Proceeds of Crime Act to freeze the assets.
The bureau claimed that in 2013 Mr Browning purchased a 1.3-hectare site in Garristown for €120,000 on which he subsequently developed a residence, large barn-like sheds, a sand riding area, stables and an access way on the lands that had previously contained a derelict old cottage and some old sheds.
Mr Browning, Ms Mulhall and their three children live in the complex, CAB claimed.
CAB also claimed that Mr Browning restored the cottage on the site, called Chestnut Lodge, for approximately €330,000.
Mr Browning did not contest CAB's application, but members of his family had rejected the claims regarding the assets.
Mr Browning's relatives, including his mother Julie Conway and her husband, a former garda, claimed an interest in the assets and had contended they spent legitimate funds on the renovation of Chestnut Lodge, where they reside.
Ms Conway had also claimed ownership in two plots of land in Rush, Co Dublin.
It is also claimed that CAB was not entitled to take possession of assets that, it is alleged, form part of the estate of the late William Conway, who was Mr Browning's grandfather, who died in 2018.
It was claimed that the property at Garristown was acquired in 2012 with €100,000 from William Conway, after he sold a house at Deanstown Road for €120,000 from his grandnephew Ian O'Heaire, who is also a cousin of Ross Browning.
The late Mr Conway bought the house in Deanstown Road with money he claimed he received by way of compensation in 2008 and 2010, while it was also claimed that Mr O'Heaire acquired the property with compensation money he received in 2012.
Proceeds of crime
CAB, represented by Benedict Ó Floinn SC with Grainne O'Neill Bl, had argued that Mr Browning, a bricklayer by profession who had also operated a Dublin gym, had obtained assets by "intermingling money" that was the proceeds of crime with money belonging to members of his family.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Owens said he accepted that most of the assets sought by CAB were acquired with monies from Mr Browning and rejected most of the arguments put forward by relatives of Mr Browning regarding the origin of the funds.
From the financial evidence put before the court, the judge said he was satisfied that between 2011 and 2017, Mr Browning and Ms Mulhall could not afford to buy and pay for the upkeep and training of a trotting horse, engage in property purchases, fund the renovation of houses, set up a gym business or pay out large sums of cash for cars.
Their means at this time were "very modest", the judge said.
In relation to claims made by Mr Browning's family regarding the property and renovations at Garristown, the lands in Rush, and the property at Deanstown, the judge said the evidence showed that Mr Browning was involved in acquiring all these properties.
The judge said nothing spent on the site in Garristown by Mr Browning came from any identifiable legitimate source of income.
The site was bought in an arrangement to substitute legitimate income with the proceeds of crime, the judge said. That money was provided by relatives and was to be returned by Ross Browning in due course, he added.
The only possible source of the money which funded the development was Mr Browning, the judge said.
The court accepted that Ms Conway and her husband did retain an interest in the cost of refurbishing Chestnut Lodge, adding they spent up to €70,000 of their money on those works. The court directed that they receive a quarter of the net proceeds of the sale of that part of the Garristown property.
The court was also disposed to make an order in favour of the estate of the late Willam Conway, that it be paid €59,000 out of the sale of Garristown.
The court did not know if Mr Browning has made good to sort out his grandfather when funds were provided to purchase Garristown.
Mr Browning was also the person behind the acquisition and renovation of the house at Deanstown Road, the judge said, adding Mr O'Heaire had no control over it, nor did he ever receive any rent.
Mr Browning controlled the asset, and the judge said CAB had established that the property was acquired with and renovated with the proceeds of crime.
It was also accepted by the court that Mr O'Heaire does retain some interest in the Deanstown Road property. The judge directed that he be paid out €103,000 of any sale by CAB of that asset, but the judge added no interest was to apply.
The judge said he was reluctantly minded to imposing these exceptional provisions in order to ensure that there was no disproportionate enrichment of the State at the expense of Mr Browning's relatives who would have lost out for "facilitating Ross Browning's activities relating to those properties".
"These relatives have involved themselves in highly culpable activities. They either facilitated money laundering or took benefits funded by organised crime of the most serious sort," the judge said.
Given Mr Browning and his partner's lack of legitimate means to make savings to fund these purchases, and Ms Conway's lack of credible means to explain the source of much of the money used, the obvious inference was the two sites in Rush were also ultimately sourced from the proceeds of crime, the judge added.
Mr Justice Owens said that he was satisfied to deem other assets seized by CAB from Garristown, such as an Audi SUV, which was obtained in exchange for two other vehicles, a black Mercedes-Benz van, and a motorbike, registered in the name of Stephen Fowler, as the proceeds of crime.
There was no sufficient evidence to deem a sum of €2,800 in cash, which was also seized by CAB from Garristown, as the proceeds of crime, the judge added.
Counsel said other items seized by CAB, including a diamond ring, cars, cash and several luxury watches from some of Mr Browning's relatives, were also deemed to have been acquired with monies provided to them by Mr Browning which the court said were the proceeds of crime.
The items were taken from parties, including Mr Browning's sisters Cheryl and Robyn Browning, and his aunt Lesley Conway.
Legitimate sources of income could not explain how they came into possession of those items, nor the extensive foreign trips taken by some of Mr Browning’s relatives, the court also concluded.