Northern Ireland

Blackmail victim 'was money-launderer'

Justice statue with scales

An alleged blackmail victim was himself involved in money-laundering and drugs, it has been claimed at a bail hearing in the High Court in Belfast.

A judge heard of "concerns about the veracity and reliability" of the man, now on a witness protection scheme.

Three men have been charged with blackmailing the alleged victim who has been named only as Witness A.

A bail application by one man, John Patrick Clarke, 35, of Ardglen Place, Belfast, was adjourned.

The alleged victim, who cannot be named by court order, said he was targeted by men claiming to be republican paramilitaries in Belfast.

He handed over £8,500 in cash and then a further package containing more than £3,000 before police swooped during a planned operation in the city's Markets area in September, according to the prosecution.

Mr Clarke had applied for compassionate bail to attend the birth registration of his new-born child.

A Crown lawyer who opposed his release due to the risk of interference with witnesses claimed the accused was present when the first amount of money was paid out.

Mr Clarke, who faces two counts of blackmail, was arrested earlier this month.

He gave a statement saying he acted lawfully on behalf of a friend of Witness A, to whom the £8,500 was owed, the court heard.

A Crown lawyer said this friend - who was shot in the legs during a suspected paramilitary punishment attack in September - did not receive the money.

This man has since been alerted by police to a death threat against him, it was disclosed.

Amid claims that an organised crime gang was behind the suspected blackmail plot, Mr Henry added: "Witness A has been taken into the witness protection scheme but his family members are still in the Belfast area."

Defence lawyer Richard Greene told the court that all those involved in the case appeared to be known to each other.

He said it was claimed that Clarke had been present to obtain money owed by Witness A to the friend who was in hospital at the time.

Asked by the judge why the alleged victim would have been holding the cash, Mr Greene replied: "It seems inevitable from what Witness A is saying in his statement that he was money-laundering.

"It wasn't a result of any business he conducted that he held that money."

The barrister added: "There are serious concerns over the veracity and reliability of Witness A which extends beyond the money-laundering as far as his handling of that money is concerned.

"It extends to (the belief) that he has a significant drugs problem going on for a number of years.

"It's a murky world, but it's a murky world from the Crown's perspective as well."