Haulage boss faces jail after admitting drug trafficking and money laundering

A wealthy haulage boss is facing a long jail term after admitting drugs trafficking and money laundering, a court heard.

Irishman Thomas Maher, 39, was told by Judge Brian Cummings QC he will likely be given a “substantial” prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to a string of offences at Liverpool Crown Court on Friday.

Father-of-three Maher, appearing via video-link from HMP Liverpool, had been arrested in October last year after the deaths of 39 Vietnamese people found in a shipping container in Essex.

His home in Warrington, Cheshire, was raided by police but he was not charged with any offences in connection with the deaths.

He was re-arrested by the National Crime Agency on June 30, and charged with the other offences.

On Friday, Maher pleaded guilty to four counts of conspiracy to commit a crime abroad, spanning March 28 and May 11 this year.

They included two charges of conspiracy to import class A drugs into Ireland and two of transferring criminal property into Ireland, 300,000 euro (£274,000) in April and 600,000 euro (£549,000) in May.

Catherine Rabaiotti, prosecuting, said the pleas entered were accepted by the prosecution and Maher will be sentenced on December 1.

Remanding Maher into custody until then, Judge Cummings told the defendant: “Plainly on the face of it, you are facing a substantial custodial sentence, but the exact nature and extent of the sentence will be decided on the next occasion on December 1.”

The facts of the case were not opened during the brief hearing.

Maher is believed to have been co-ordinating a transport network to facilitate drug importations into the UK via Ireland, and the transport of money from Ireland to Holland using encrypted EncroChat phones.

EncroChat phones were used by major criminals across Europe as they were regarded as uncrackable by police.

But the secret communication system was hacked by law enforcement in June, leading to hundreds of arrests across the country.

Maher pleaded not guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit a crime abroad, that of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm to Ronan Hughes in Ireland between April 21 and April 29 this year.

The final charge will not be prosecuted, the court heard.

Haulier Ronan Hughes, 40, from Co Armagh in Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey in August to 39 counts of manslaughter.

He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between May 1 2018 and October 24 2019.