How far will authorities dig into Kinahan boxing affairs?

On April 11, 2022, the Kinahan Organised Crime Group was sanctioned by the US Treasury.

Given Daniel Kinahan’s involvement in boxing, that development had far-reaching consequences through the sport that are still being felt today.

In the immediate aftermath, history began to be rewritten by many of his disciples — those who had worked for one of the world’s most wanted men. Videos were deleted; tweets of support vapourised, but there were plenty of discussions that Kinahan remained active behind the scenes. That speculation continues to exist, even though the net is increasingly closing in.

But while many of Kinahan’s boxing underlings are keen to continue as if nothing’s happened, there is the chance that they could still find themselves in serious trouble.

Some felt that the sport could be such a small part of the group’s alleged global criminal enterprises that authorities might not trawl through years of paperwork to discover who has been paid what and how much over the years — and whether they are linked to proceeds of crime or money laundering. 

Perhaps it is the high-profile nature of Kinahan’s involvement in boxing that will encourage criminal and financial experts to investigate and follow paper trails in the years to come.

“I don't think it [boxing is] anyway, small fry,” said Nicola Tallant — Investigations Editor of Sunday World and award-winning author and fearless podcaster — who has followed the Organised Crime Group’s movements for more than a decade.

“What you have to ask yourself is who is ‘they’? she said, talking about the authorities charged with bringing the gang to justice. “Is ‘they’ the Americans, the Irish and Spanish, because they’re all different jurisdictions with all different laws and all different police forces? So where is that packet kept? The money kept?”

It is no doubt a complex web to unravel. It will take qualified people years to do, and even then some of the loose ends might never be tied off. But Tallant believes efforts will be made.

“I know very little about boxing,” she said. “I always say that before I start talking about it. I recall in 2016, and you had MGM, it was still MGM in Spain [before MTK and other suspected incarnations]. And the Regency [Hotel shooting] had happened in February. In September of 2016, the Spanish police moved in, and they arrested a guy called James Quinn, who was subsequently convicted of the murder of Gary Hutch – the murder which kicked off all the trouble here really. 

“They moved in and they kicked in the doors of MGM in Puerto Banus. They arrested James Quinn and they released video footage of them [police] going through the safes in MGM and in James Quinn’s house and his yacht and everything. It was going to be another proud moment [for police]. But at the same time I was looking at the business structure around MGM, and I could see that about a month before that raid, or six weeks — something quite soon before — they had moved all the intellectual property rights to Dubai, to a place which was a free trade zone. And they had also moved physically themselves.”

The authorities were left chasing ghosts, following a complex treasure map to the Middle East. But the footprint in boxing grew further still.

“We could follow the intellectual property rights and finances going out to Dubai,” Tallant continued. “We couldn’t see what happened after that. So, you have to question, ‘Who is following the money trail? And how can you follow the money trail into the Gulf?’ It’s the same problem with football, with motor racing and various other sports. It goes out to the Gulf, and you’re relying on countries who just aren’t playing ball. They’re cheaters really, aren’t they? Because they want the money. They want to pretend that they don’t welcome money from organised crime and from laundered money through sport, but ultimately it’s what’s keeping their economies going.”

It has created a toxic division in boxing, certainly in the UK. Those who have taken advantage, and those who have been watching. It has changed the face of press conferences, weigh-ins and shows. Few of the faces from pre-2015 attend as many events. But will those who have worked with “Dubai money” be held accountable at any point, or are they all authors of their own chapters of a perfect crime?

Tallant believes the authorities could be following many leads through boxing.

“They will have to be doing this,” she said. “I mean, the likes of the boxers that are based in the UK, how are they getting paid? Where’s the money coming from? You would like to think that either the NCA [National Crime Agency] is looking or there’s a wider investigation into the money going into some of those boxers’ pockets who have been so clearly and obviously and evidently linked to Daniel Kinahan. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to go and look [where] some of these fighters have got their money from, and is it legit? Is that the proceeds of crime? Is it money that has come through laundering? It’s an incredibly difficult thing to unravel. 

“With the Americans, anything that’s going to be held within the US is going to be seized; taken under those Rico laws [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act]. No doubt about that, but I would think that the largest majority of the money is out there in the Gulf. Even if [the] Kinahans are handed back, which they will be, to Ireland to face trial at the end of the day, the Emirati authorities are going to keep their [the Kinahans’] money. There will be no loyalty. They will have sheltered them for a long time but whatever money is out there is going to be seized and they’re not going to give it back to anybody. But also people seem to be paid off — if you ask me. You have to recognise that they [the Kinahans] are in these territories because there’s so much corruption going on. And there’s so much facility to corrupt people, it’s easier to corrupt people than have to threaten people. It’s easier if people are willing. You’d like to think that the NCA National Crime Agency in the UK are very active. Certainly, the Kinahans’ top command in the UK has been dismantled.”

Various members of the crime group have been arrested — in the UK, Spain and further afield — but the Irish have so far not been able to get anyone deported to Ireland.

Tallant has pursued the Kinahans relentlessly. Her book, The Clash of the Clans: The Rise of the Kinahan Mafia and Boxing’s Dirty Secret tracked the group’s origins from Dublin to the top of boxing, with shoutouts via social media from Tyson Fury to a ridiculously, almost unbelievably large stable of fighters and gyms worldwide. 

If you need to launder money, boxing is the way to do it. It was once said the easiest way to make £1m in boxing is to start with £10m. Unless you get right to the top one or two per cent, there is no money in this sport. People do it for the love of doing it. They are involved because it allows people to make positive choices; to, ironically, lead them away from lives of crime. But opportunities are few and far between and Kinahan created a false economy the likes of which boxing has not seen but the likes of which boxing cannot sustain. If you need to get rid of a lot of cash, boxing is the way to do it.

The roots of the group are deep. And those who have been around boxing long enough — and are still around — can identify the influence he has today, more than a year after the sanctions were announced.

If Kinahan is still involved, as alleged by many insiders, will those working with him — or among the layers underneath him — be in more trouble?

Tallant believes the “buy in” to Kinahan is so strong that those who have advocated him and his position in boxing have likely turned a blind eye to the sanctions in favour of heaping further worship on their messiah.

“What you have to remember is from a criminal point of view in 2010, Europol, the whole of Europe’s police systems together, went for the Kinahans in Spain under Operation Shovel,” Tallant went on. “It was one of the biggest Europol operations since it began. And they lifted them. The Spanish very publicly said they had dismantled them — that they were an Irish mafia, they were worth 100 million and all the rest of it. And the Kinahans told all their people, ‘We will get away with this. You just keep doing what you doing. We can handle this. We can get away with this. We’re so well connected.’

“And what happened? They got away with it. And that means that that diktat from them… It’s no longer seen as something that is a maybe — it’s factual. And the same thing happened in boxing. Kinahan kept convincing them nothing would happen. ‘Nothing’s gonna happen. We’re gonna get away with this. I’m representing Tyson Fury. I’m doing this’, and of course, it went on for so long. And nobody came knocking; nobody was arrested.”

But there could come a point when doors are knocked and people do get arrested. Authorities will be asking for information. To explain finances. To explain trips. To explain relationships. The fallout has already seen significant boxing personalities from the UK banned from entering the US. Strangely, some of those movers and shakers have still been able to move and shake — fight and work — in America.

Last week, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris travelled to Dubai for talks with police chiefs there, and it was thought the extradition of Irish gang members would have been near the top of the minutes for their meeting. Some felt the trip was a publicity stunt, but there is also hope in other areas that it is the beginning of the end. Tallant reserves any right to predict how the meetings will benefit anybody, but even if Kinahan was to be brought back imminently, the process could be slow.

“From a criminal point of view, what we have is the Kinahans are holed up in Dubai, obviously; they have the connections there,” Tallant said. “There is a file now with the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] here in Ireland, which is not imminently ready, but it will be ready in six months. We’re looking at early 2024. Harris is out there and it’s a little bit of a publicity thing, but also to lay the groundwork of what’s to come. The current situation is, no matter what we say, even if the Kinahans were brought back here tomorrow, they might be arrested, but we don’t have charges yet to put them before the court. We will in six months time… and it will be a completely different picture. But in the meantime, from a criminal point of view, what I’m hearing from people within their [the Kinahans’] ranks — they’re calling in as much money as they can, as much debt as they can, because they know they’re going away and they want to try and leave as much waiting for them. They have a problem that people aren’t paying their bills because they know they’re going under. And they’re literally desperate for money.”

The authorities could be desperate to find where it has all gone. Flash cars; designer clothes; watches; jewellery; and how so many have afforded so much in a sport that, no matter what part you are in, pays frugally. As Tallant puts it, they will “follow the money train”.

“It would probably bring you straight back to Dubai,” she explained. “The problem is that without the cooperation of Dubai, and politically, there’s a lot going on there, because they [the Dubai bigwigs] are desperate… they’re on some sort of financial blacklist... They want to try and clean up their act and there’s all sorts of PR going on about how they don’t welcome these money launderers. They don’t welcome this, that and the other, and they tick certain boxes to get themselves off the blacklist. And it is such a political thing. The money through the boxing, they obviously feel either frightened — or secure — that it’s not going to be linked back to Daniel. Now he’s a very convincing character. And he’s obviously convinced them [in boxing and in Dubai] all to let him in. Because of the money he’s had, they’ve all taken his dollar. 

“I was always told some pretty influential people in boxing were pretty desperate for him to get lifted — for Kinahan to get lifted — because it would have solved their problems that they can’t solve themselves because they’re so deep in that the only thing that that solves it for them is the police. And I think that is the case. I think they took his money.”

So what if that is found to be the case? What if elaborate purchases have been made with ill-gotten gains? What will happen to those who have taken the money?

“The simplest thing would be to confiscate the assets,” Tallant said. “Now, I’m saying that from an Irish point of view, because they’re slightly different, say, in the UK — they seize assets, right? They will give people bills; they have a habit of usually doing that once they have a criminal conviction. The minute you get a criminal conviction, they go looking at your assets and they make a list of them. And they say to you, right, you probably owe us about five million. And if you can’t pay that off — you won’t pay that — you’re gonna get another five years in prison. Whereas in Ireland, the Criminal Assets Bureau actively go after assets. And it’s up to the person they seized them from to prove in court how they legitimately earned enough money to buy them. So, again, what you have to look at is the commitment of each individual country to identifying and seizing assets. I’m not sure how well the UK are doing with that. Each case is different. But ultimately, proving the money laundering is going to be difficult, but I think that they will go certainly for some. 

“Plenty of people will get away with this, because it won’t be easy to prove that they knowingly laundered money. Because of the layers they put in place and these companies that they’ve put in place — and they’ve always managed to get in directors who are tricky dickys. But it’s not clean. It’s not simple. You’re not looking at a piece of paper and saying, ‘That’s how you link it to Daniel Kinahan, that’s how you link it to the Kinahan Organised Crime Group’. It’s going to take a lot of effort; a lot of untangling of all the finances. I’d like to think it’s going on. I mean, we would like to think that the world of law enforcement in all the different territories have recognised the significance of the Kinahans enough to sanction them; that they’re not just going to ignore the finances and let that go. We have to believe in the systems of law that they are [following it down].”

Many in boxing felt the sanctions meant nothing. Some heard that instructions from Dubai in boxing was “business as usual”. That was not the case in the US, of course, but other avenues appear to remain open and relationships might have stayed in place with intermediaries being used as faux managers and front men, putting distance between those in Dubai and those in Europe and elsewhere. But the inability for some to travel to the US is about as serious as it has got for them — so far.

What differences have the sanctions made?

“When you look at those Russian oligarchs, it’s exactly the same,” Tallant explained of the Russians who have been sanctioned by the United Kingdom. “They’re sanctioned. But what do they do? They take their giant yachts and they head out to Dubai. They’re out there in those territories themselves. So what you have is the largest organised crime groupings in Europe, and you have the Russian oligarchs all sanctioned by the US, all living it up in the Gulf, where nobody really gives a shit. The sanctions are nearly… while they’re useful — nobody in the US is going to do business with the Kinahans again — it’s kind of really a statement. What’s their [the sanctions] practical use? They’ve sanctioned these guys. They’ve sanctioned Daniel

Kinahan — what is actually in Daniel Kinahan’s name? Daniel Kinahan’s not operating in a legitimate economy as such, and if he is he’s doing it with layers and layers and layers before it gets to him. So can people not say, ‘Sorry, I thought I was I was working with a certain promotional group. I didn’t realise Daniel Kinahan was behind the group because his name was nowhere on those papers’. How do you prove that people realise and know that they’re still working with Daniel Kinahan, and he will be assuring them that he’s so far away from it that they won’t have an issue? And they will believe him. 

“The finances of the top promoters, as far as we know, aren’t being trawled through by the police. In the UK, no one has been arrested. Nobody. Nothing has happened to anybody. Until of course the sanctions happened. And then the boxers weren’t allowed in the US. Again, Kinahan will be telling them, ‘I'm getting this sorted. Nobody's gonna get me. Sure. Look what happened. It’s just the Irish, you know, they’re fools. Nobody believes what they have to say. There’s a big conspiracy against me. I've done nothing wrong. It’s all jealousy.’ And of course, as the time goes on within the boxing environment, they believe that too, don’t they?”

Tallant noticed boxing’s almost tribal mentality at the start of the group’s emergence in the sport. She saw how fighters and others in boxing bought into the hype; the money; the opportunities. Many made money that they would otherwise have been unable to earn; they jumped ahead of queues into title fights because of who was behind them rather than what they had earned. Boxing is called the toughest game for a reason. Fighters need to make what they can and get out. It is hard to say someone doesn’t deserve anything out of their unforgiving business, but the sinister presence in Dubai and the influx of “Dubai money” certainly opened a lot of doors that would have otherwise been locked in boxing — across the board. 

“It’s almost a cult mentality that goes on these wider groupings in boxing,” Tallant noted. “The minute I started looking at the boxing thing, to me, it was a cult. It was a cult of Daniel Kinahan. When I saw all of these people signing up, I could see them going for the money, but it was more than that. They worshipped Daniel Kinahan, the ground he walked on — everything he said — and they believed him.”

They did. Plenty still do. But they have been watched for an awfully long time and, much like the anticipation before the first bell of a superfight when no one knows what is about to happen, there will be a lot of people in boxing sitting nervously in their ringside seats as the tangled web eventually starts to unravel.