Raids on homes of brothers wanted by Essex police

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Image source, Essex Police
Image caption,
Christopher (left) and Ronan Hughes are wanted on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking

Homes belonging to two brothers wanted for questioning about the deaths of 39 people in a lorry in Essex have been searched by the Irish authorities.

Ronan and Christopher Hughes have links to Armagh in Northern Ireland and Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland.

Two County Monaghan homes owned by the pair were among 10 properties searched by Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), according to police sources.

CAB seized vehicles and cash as part of its year-long smuggling investigation.

The bureau also secured court orders to freeze 20 bank accounts holding about €200,000 in total.

The CAB investigation is focused on "a group suspected of being involved in various international smuggling activities".

However, that investigation has "intensified over the past two weeks" according to a statement issued by gardaí (Irish police).

Image source, An Garda Siochana
Image caption,
Two lorry tractors and trailers were seized last week as part of the investigation

The statement, issued on Thursday morning, said the CAB investigation was "not linked to the ongoing Essex Police investigation".

However, it is understood that the discovery of 39 bodies in a lorry in Essex on 23 October has given added impetus to CAB's long-running investigation into international smuggling.

The 10 County Monaghan properties searched by CAB staff on Thursday consisted of seven homes and three industrial premises, which were described by gardaí as sheds or yards.

The items seized during the raids included two BMW cars; a Volkswagen van and a Mitsubishi Shogun.

Image source, An Garda Siochana
Image caption,
One of the cars seized in County Monaghan

Cash in different currencies was also found, with CAB seizing €1,400, $900 and £600.

In addition to the four vehicles seized in Monaghan on Thursday, a Northern Ireland-registered lorry and a Bulgarian-registered lorry were seized at Dublin Port last Tuesday as part of the same investigation.

Garda sources also confirmed that some of the material seized belongs to 40-year-old Ronan Hughes and his 34-year-old brother Christopher.

Image source, An Garda Siochana
Image caption,
A van was also seized

Investigating officers said at the time the pair were wanted on suspicion of manslaughter of the 39 Vietnamese victims.

Earlier on Thursday, the force said all 39 people have been formally identified but their names are not yet being released.

This article was based on public announcements and appeals made by Essex Police at the relevant time. Christopher Hughes denies any involvement in these offences and Essex Police has since confirmed no further action will be taken against him. Since the publication of this article, his older brother, Ronan Hughes, 41, and Maurice Robinson, 26, both of County Armagh, have pleaded guilty to manslaughter. On 21 December 2020, the Crown Court, sitting at the Old Bailey, found Eamonn Harrison, 24 of Newry, County Down, and Gheorghe Nica, 43 of Basildon, Essex, guilty of manslaughter and Christopher Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh, and Valentin Calota 38, of Birmingham, guilty of conspiring to assist illegal immigration. Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 28, of Tilbury, Essex, and Gazmir Nuzi, 43, of Tottenham, north London, admitted assisting unlawful immigration. All defendants were sentenced in January 2021.

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