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Home / News / Man charged over €33m crystal meth seizure denied bail

Man charged over €33m crystal meth seizure denied bail

A man charged over the country’s largest-ever crystal meth seizure has been denied bail despite his father’s offer to sell the family home and put up €200,000.

James Leen, 41, a father of three of Pilgrim Hill, Kilmourna, Listowel, Co Kerry, faces two charges of drug importation at Cork Port, Ringaskiddy, on 16 October 2023, of methylamphetamine, known as crystal meth, and possession of the drug worth €13,000 or more at Ballyseedy Garden Centre between 27 October 2023, and mid-February 2024.

The estimated street value of the haul is €32.8m.

He and co-accused businessman Nathan McDonnell were denied District Court bail in February, and Mr McDonnell was also refused High Court bail subsequently.

Mr Leen brought his fresh application before Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring in the High Court in Cloverhill.

However, the alleged “logistics figure” was refused bail after the judge held that he was a flight risk.

The hearing was told that Mr Leen was setting up a travel app, and the judge also described it as a “conundrum” that a man on legal aid could travel so much when given a list of countries he had visited in recent years.

Detective Sergeant Ernie Henderson voiced objections to bail. He said that on 15 February, based on information gathered by the Kerry Divisional Drugs Unit, customs officers at Cork Port examined a container.

“Gardaí can confirm the container contained a purported magnetic separator machine destined for Australia,” he said, adding that it had “sophisticated concealment” which was purposely built for the drugs, and the machine was not operative. It contained 543kg of crystal meth.

The bail application heard that the gardai established that this shipment travelled to Ireland from Mexico and arrived at Cork Port on 16 October.

Detective Sergeant Henderson said it was believed Mr Leen was the logistics figure in the importation and that he allegedly liaised with different figures across the globe.

Nathan McDonnell, 44, left, and James Leen

It was claimed a firm and its named CEO, now deceased but who was code-named “Grandma”, paid €40,000 for the machine.

The bail hearing was told that Nathan McDonnell of Ballyseedy Garden Centre paid the €20,000 shipping charges.

The machine remained at the garden centre for several months before being moved to Cork Port for transport to Australia.

Detective Sergeant Henderson said the value in Ireland was €32.8 million but “substantially more” in Australia.

Further serious charges are to be considered, the court heard.

Detective Sergeant Henderson said phone evidence had been obtained.

The court also heard there was CCTV footage of Mr McDonnell loading the machine into a container at the garden centre and giving Mr Leen documents from a shipping company.

The offences, on conviction, carry a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years and a maximum life sentence.

The officer also said the accused spent a large amount of time out of Ireland and went to various countries, including Columbia, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil and the Netherlands.

He feared that if bail were granted, he could “put himself beyond the reach of An Garda Síochána”.

Theresa Lowe BL, for the State, asked the court to consider the garda evidence and said that the accused could go to a country that did not have an extradition treaty with Ireland.

Defence counsel Ronan Prendergast told the court he was instructed that his client had been setting up a travel app about to “go live”.

He said Mr Leen, who appeared remotely via video link, would obey conditions.

He argued that while his client did not own a property, he had greater ties to the country through his family’s presence there.

The defendant remained silent throughout the proceedings.

Mr Prendergast also said his client’s father, who watched from the public gallery, had instructed the defence that he would put his home on the market to raise €200,000 bail for his son.

Refusing the application, Ms Justice Ring said he enjoyed the presumption of innocence, but she held that the evidence supported the contention and probability that he would not attend his trial if released.

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