Cunningham changes plea on Northern Bank robbery money-laundering charges

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65-year-old Cork-based financier Ted Cunningham has re-joined the list of those convicted as a result of “Operation Phoenix”, a huge cross-border investigation into the December 2004 Northern Bank robbery - “involving anti-terrorist units, fraud squads and the Criminal Assets Bureau.”  His original 2009 convictions, and his 10 year sentence, were overturned on appeal in 2012, after the Irish Supreme Court ruled that certain search warrants used had been unconstitutional.  As an Irish Independent report noted at the time

The three-judge [Court of Criminal Appeal] quashed the convictions on the basis that the warrant used to search his home was under section 29 of the Offences Against the State Act, and therefore not valid.

Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, sitting with Mr Justice Michael Moriarty and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, ordered Mr Cunningham face a retrial on nine of the 10 counts against him.

However, he will not be retried on the 10th count, which referred to a £2.4m allegedly found in his home on February 17 2005, on foot of a Section 29 search warrant.

The other nine charges relate to smaller sums of money allegedly transferred by Mr Cunningham to other people.

Cunningham had continued to deny the nine remaining charges.  Until, as the Irish Times now reports, he “changed his plea to guilty on the fourth day of his trial”.

He was re-arraigned on two of the charges and on pleaded guilty to those, prosecution counsel, Tom O’Connell said those pleas were acceptable to the DPP.

Today, Cunningham pleaded guilty to money laundering £100,040 stg on January 15th 2005 by transferring it to John Douglas in Tullamore, Co Offaly.

He also pleaded guilty to money laundering £175,360 on February 7th 2005 by transferring it to John Sheehan in Ballincollig, Co Cork and receiving three cheques totalling €200,000.

The charges state that Cunningham committed money laundering on both occasions while being reckless regarding the monies involved being the proceeds of a crime, the Northern Bank raid.

The RTÉ report adds

Around £26.5m sterling was taken in the raid at the Northern Bank Cash Centre on Donegall Square West in Belfast on 20 December 2004.

Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin granted an application from the defence to adjourn sentencing.

He remanded Cunningham on bail for sentence at Cork Circuit Criminal Court on 27 February.

Update  And on that date Ted Cunningham was given a five-year suspended sentence and banned from working in the financial services area.  The Irish Examiner report notes

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said, in the interests of protecting the public, Cunningham should have nothing to do with this type of work to which he was entirely unsuited.

His plea of guilty is a significant matter. It puts his involvement beyond all doubt. Out of his own mouth he admits his guilt publicly now. There are no appeals, there is no doubt.” [added emphasis]

The judge noted that Cunningham’s plea of guilty to recklessly laundering money from the robbery came at a time in his recent trial when a legal argument failed to prevent the prospect of evidence of the late John Douglas senior, a Tullamore jeweller, being given from a stenographic note of his testimony in the original trial five years ago.

Before this evidence could be read to the jury, the accused had pleaded guilty to two of the nine charges, which brought the case to an end.

And from the RTÉ report

Ted Cunningham from Farran in Co Cork had protested his innocence on the charges for almost a decade.

The suspended sentence imposed on him reflects the fact that he has already served three-years in jail after he was convicted by a jury at his original trial.

The Court of Criminal appeal later ordered a retrial where he again pleaded not guilty but changed his plea after four days.

Almost £3m seized by gardaí from Cunningham’s home and from other locations has been forfeited to the State.

The December 2004 Northern Bank raid was the biggest robbery ever on the island of Ireland.

It is believed to have been organised by the IRA and a gang escaped with over £26.5m in Northern Bank notes.

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  • cynic2

    “you cant be a Republican and a criminal”

    Copyright G Adams

    Best Newcomer Edinburgh Fringe 2005

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    Just curious, do we know that Cunningham is/was a republican of the SF variety?

  • Mark

    Curiousity killed the cat Joe lol …. Are you asking if the “dissidents ” were involved in the Northern Bank job ?

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    Mark,

    I have an open mind on that heist. I’m not convinced that former government agents weren’t involved. It is/was a very murky affair and politics (and easy money) makes strange bedfellows.

  • Framer

    Open mind? I suppose Ted just found the money in his wheelie bin, as you do.

  • son of sam

    Joe
    Could you be more specific on your definition of “former government agent” and outline your reasons for scepticism ?

  • Coll Ciotach

    Apparently, according to this, he self identifies as a Fianna Fáil republican,

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/foyle_and_west/7968416.stm

  • Harry Flashman

    I doubt that his political affiliations are what mattered.

    He ran a small family-run financial services company (a nice term for money lender, as stated in the BBC report), just the sort of quiet provincial business that organised crime looks for when needing to wash dirty money. His son pleaded guilty to money laundering some of the Norther Bank cash.

    Anyone familiar with series like the Sopranos or other organised crime dramas will know that the lawyers and money-launderers do not usually belong to the Mafia themselves.

    Now here’s the stupidest question ever asked but I wonder if any of our legal boffins can answer it.

    “However, he will not be retried on the 10th count, which referred to a £2.4m allegedly found in his home on February 17 2005, on foot of a Section 29 search warrant.”

    So does he get to keep the dough then?

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    sos,

    I just don’t know. There were suggestions that retired police or army were involved. I’m not exactly sceptical; it would seem likely that it was the PIRA but I just don’t know.
    Like many others, I expect, I’d love to see someone proven guilty as I’m a lawabiding sort of guy and, at the end of the day, it’s the small savers who generally end up paying for the Bank’s losses even though their security obviously sucked.

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    “However, he will not be retried on the 10th count, which referred to a £2.4m allegedly found in his home on February 17 2005, on foot of a Section 29 search warrant.”

    Can someone explain this to me? In the U.S. the standard is probable cause–the police must demonstrate to a judge that there is a reasonable grounds to believe that the person against whom a search warrant is issued committed a particular crime. The warrant is for a specific area and for specific items or a particular type of items. Why is the charge that the warrant is issued for pertinent to whether or not the search is constitutional?

  • cynic2

    “There were suggestions that retired police or army were involved.”

    And who suggested that? Step forward Sinn Fein

    Now if you really think that ‘state agents’ were going about Cork with Council wheelie bibs full of Northern Bank fivers I admire your resilience in the face of the facts

    Now will any Unionist MLAs demand the money back? I look forward to seeing it

  • Hopping The Border

    TMitch,

    From what I recall the problem, as exposed by the Damache appeal to the SC, was that S29 search warrants were capable of being issued by a senior Garda who was actively involved in the investigation and was thus not in a position to independently assess the request.

    The Court viewed this as unconstitutional since it did not adequately balance the interests of the State with those of the individual.

    Such an approach breached the procedural principles that one cannot judge his own case and that the arbiter must be able to hear the other side.

  • Hopping The Border

    HF:

    I would suspect the money would be/has been subject to a CAB Proceeds of Crime Application.

  • Granni Trixie

    Unless my memory playing tricks, following the robbery did not the cops uncover two sports bags/holdalls full of Northern bank dosh in a PSNI place in New forge Lane? It was a LOL moment and immediately dismissed by most people as anything but a wee joke by the robbers. Obviously most of the proceeds found their way across the border.

    And Whatever happened to Chris ward?

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    @Hopping,

    Thank you. That makes sense.

  • Harry Flashman

    Thank you HTB, our new resident legal expert, I had forgotten about the CAB, so the ill-gotten gains end up in the coffers of the Irish State. Wonder what the insurers of the Northern Bank think about that outcome.

  • Framer

    Mister Joe
    Is it possible to prove to your satisfaction that the IRA done anything?
    What criteria need to be met?
    I presume a criminal conviction is insufficient and that proof of the absence of collusion is also necessary?

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    Framer,

    I would be satisfied if a member of either the IRA or SF was convicted. I understand this Cunningham guy is FF. And yes, I know that there have been links between FF and the IRA, pretty serious ones in the case of PIRA.

  • Pete Baker

    Update And on that date Ted Cunningham was given a five-year suspended sentence and banned from working in the financial services area. The Irish Examiner report notes

    Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said, in the interests of protecting the public, Cunningham should have nothing to do with this type of work to which he was entirely unsuited.

    His plea of guilty is a significant matter. It puts his involvement beyond all doubt. Out of his own mouth he admits his guilt publicly now. There are no appeals, there is no doubt.” [added emphasis]

    The judge noted that Cunningham’s plea of guilty to recklessly laundering money from the robbery came at a time in his recent trial when a legal argument failed to prevent the prospect of evidence of the late John Douglas senior, a Tullamore jeweller, being given from a stenographic note of his testimony in the original trial five years ago.

    Before this evidence could be read to the jury, the accused had pleaded guilty to two of the nine charges, which brought the case to an end.

    And from the RTÉ report

    Ted Cunningham from Farran in Co Cork had protested his innocence on the charges for almost a decade.

    The suspended sentence imposed on him reflects the fact that he has already served three-years in jail after he was convicted by a jury at his original trial.

    The Court of Criminal appeal later ordered a retrial where he again pleaded not guilty but changed his plea after four days.

    Almost £3m seized by gardaí from Cunningham’s home and from other locations has been forfeited to the State.

    The December 2004 Northern Bank raid was the biggest robbery ever on the island of Ireland.

    It is believed to have been organised by the IRA and a gang escaped with over £26.5m in Northern Bank notes.