Cunningham changes plea on Northern Bank robbery money-laundering charges

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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