THE HIGH COURT has ruled that over €1 million of assets including a complex containing a horse-riding arena in North Co Dublin, cars, jewellery and designer watches linked to senior Kinahan organised crime gang member Ross Browning were obtained with the proceeds of crime.
In a lengthy and detailed judgement Mr Justice Alexander Owens said that CAB’s claims that the assets, which were seized by the bureau in 2018 from Browning and several members of his family, 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 include a property in Garristown in the Naul in North Co Dublin, lands in Rush and a house on Deanstown Drive, Finglas in 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 “that 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 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 junior wedding in Spain in 2010, the judge said.
CAB had sought orders under the 1996 Proceeds of Crime Act seeking orders allowing it to freeze the assets.
It claimed that in 2013, 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.
Browning, Mulhall and their three children live in the complex, CAB claimed.
CAB also claimed that Browning restored the cottage, called Chestnut Lodge, the site for approximately €330,000.
Browning did not contest CAB’s application; however, members of his family had rejected CAB’s claims regarding the assets.
Browning’s relatives, including his mother Julie Conway and her husband a former Garda, claimed an interest in the assets, and had contended that they spent legitimate funds on the renovation of Chestnut Lodge where they reside.
She 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 assets that it is alleged form part of the estate of the late William Conway, who was 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 grand-nephew Ian O’Heaire, who is also a cousin of Ross Browning.
The late 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 O’Heaire acquired the property with compensation money he received in 2012.
CAB represented by Benedict Ó Floinn SC, with Grainne O’Neill Bl had argued that 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 judgement Mr Justice Owens said that he accepted that most of the assets sought by cab were acquired with monies from Browning and rejected most of the arguments put forward by relatives of Browning regarding the origin of the funds.
From the financial evidence put before the court the judge said that he was satisfied that between 2011 and 2017 Browning and 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 Browning’s family regarding the property and renovations at Garristown the lands in Rush, and he property at Deanstown, the judge said that the evidence showed that Ross Browning was involved in acquiring all these properties.
The judge said that nothing spent on the site in Garristown by 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 Browning in due course the judge said.
The only possible source of the money that funded that development was Browning, the judge added.
The court accepted that Julie Conway and her husband did retain an interest in the cost of refurbishing Chestnut Lodge.
The court said they spent up to €70,000 of their money on those works and the court directed that they receive a quarter of the net proceeds of sale of that part of the property at Garristown property by CAB.
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 Browning has made good to sort out his grandfather when funds were provided to purchase Garristown.
Browning was also the person behind the acquisition and renovation of the house at Deanstown Road, the judge said. Ian O’Heaire had no control over it, nor did he ever receive any rent.
Ross Browning controlled the asset, and the judge said that CAB had established that the property was acquired with and renovated with the proceeds of crime.
It was also accepted by the court that Ian 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.
No interest was to apply, the judge added.
The judge said that while he was imposing these exceptional provisions to ensure that there was no unjust enrichment of the State at the expense of Browning’s relatives 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 Browning and his partner’s lack of legitimate means to make savings to fund these purchases, and Ms Conway 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 from 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 sim of €2800 in cash, that also seized by CAB from Garristown, as the proceeds of crime the judge added.
Counsel also said that other items seized by CAB including a diamond ring, cars, cash and several luxury watches from some of Browning’s relatives were also deemed to have been acquired with monies provided to them by Browning ,which the court said were the proceeds of crime.
The items were taken from parties including 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 Browning’s relatives, the court also concluded.