Rover Over and Out: French campaigners urge Ireland to track down ‘Dead Zoo’ rhino horn smugglers


Eamon Dillon, Sunday World

Date Published

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French campaigners have urged the Irish government to help track down and arrest two Irish men sentenced to prison for rhino smuggling.

Tom Greene (33) and Richard O’Riley (35), described as brothers, were both given prison sentences in their absence at a criminal court in Rennes. However, these are aliases used by the men, who are related to others who have been previously imprisoned in the UK and US for their roles in rhino horn smuggling, according to Sunday World sources.

Both men are related to Richard ‘Kerry’ O’Brien. Some members of his family have been targeted by law enforcement in a number of countries.

It emerged during the three-day hearing in France that police used phone taps and surveillance to nab four Rathkeale Rovers involved in a €13 million rhino horn and elephant ivory smuggling racket. 

Two other Irish men named in the French court proceedings, Edward Gammel (33) and Daniel McCarthy (29), were also convicted and given suspended sentences.

Customs fines of up to €200,000 were also imposed on each of the men.

Now Charlotte Nithart, president of the Robin des Bois, an organisation that campaigns against trafficking endangered species, wants the authorities to follow up on the arrest warrants for Greene and O’Riley. Arrest warrants have been issued for them and we hope that the Irish authorities will cooperate as they did with the US authorities in the case of John Slattery, ex-John Flynn,” she said.

Slattery, from Rathkeale, had previously been arrested in France where he used the name Flynn, before returning to Ireland from where he was extradited to the United States for rhino horn trafficking. He has since served his time and returned to Ireland in August last year.

In the most recent case, the four men from Rathkeale were caught with a very large rhino horn weighing 14.7 kilos which Nithart hopes can be traced back to its origin. “In our opinion, this trial is exceptional at the European level, with trafficking in horn and ivory and individuals from several continents,” she said.

The case highlights how Ireland’s Dead Zoo was still at work chasing profits despite its leading figures being jailed in the UK in 2016.

In the Rennes court, Tom Greene was singled out as the leading figure in the plot, which also saw four Franco-Chinese men convicted over the illegal export scheme. He got a three-year sentence despite the public prosecutor calling for a six-year term and referring to Greene as ‘a hunter without a rifle’ and the gang’s ‘sales rep’.

French prosecutors started their investigation after a random motorway traffic inspection by police in Poitiers in September 2015 led to the discovery of several elephant tusks and €32,800 cash in a BMW. The occupants of the car, who claimed they were antique dealers, were the four Irish men with addresses in the UK and Ireland.

In May 2016, investigators from the National Judicial Customs Service seized 14 raw ivory tusks of African origin and two carved tusks without any documentation as to their legal origin at a warehouse in Seine-Saint-Denis in north Paris.

On November 15, 2016, in a room of a B&B in Creil near Paris, Greene and O’Riley were arrested again with a rhinoceros horn weighing 14.7kg. The seizure took place close to a Chinese restaurant whose manager is one of the other convicted men.

All four Irish men were convicted in their absence and warrants issued for the arrests of Greene and O’Riley, who was sentenced to a year behind bars. French police also discovered that ivory and rhino horn were being turned into powder and flakes before being exported to Vietnam and China where they are used in traditional medicine.

A Chinese businessman, David Ta (51), was given two years in prison for his part in exporting the horns and tusks.

In the UK, the Dead Zoo gang was accused of stealing artefacts from museums, including rhino horn objects, worth £57 million. Those convicted included cousins Richard Sheridan and Richard ‘Kerry’ O’Brien Jr, who are related to some of those convicted in France.