Sean Garland, president of the Workers’ Party and alleged leader of the Official IRA, was arrested on Friday evening as he was preparing to deliver the keynote speech at his party’s annual conference in Belfast. The US Government is seeking his extradition, arguing that he and others have “engaged in buying, transporting and either passing as genuine or reselling large quantities of high-quality counterfeit $100 notes”.
It further alleges that Mr Garland “arranged with North Korean agencies for the purchase of quantities of notes and enlisted other people to disseminate” the money in the UK.
The 71-year-old IRA veteran was arrested by Police Service of Northern Ireland officers and appeared in Belfast Magistrate’s Court the next morning.
The so-called “superdollars” have been tracked for decades by FBI officers. Defectors from North Korea involved in their production have revealed that the secretive communist state intended to flood the world with the near-perfect notes in an attempt to destroy the US economy, a project which shared equal importance with the nuclear missiles programme.
Mr Garland, who lives in Navan, Co Meath, in the Irish Republic, was the subject of a briefing to the US’s top intelligence chiefs in the late 1990s, according to a BBC Panorama documentary of last year.
One US investigator conservatively estimates the number of “superdollars in circulation in the US alone at $30 million”.
Mr Garland was released on bail of three sureties of £10,000 each and on condition that he remained at an address in Co Down, Northern Ireland.
A solicitor for Garland told Judge Tom Burgess that his client “strenuously protests his innocence”, but the Crown lawyer argued that if released there was a “substantial risk” that Garland would not come back to face his extradition.
He told the court: “We say in simple terms that the defendant would have a strong incentive to flee back to the Republic of Ireland.”
The warrant for his arrest was issued on May 19, posing questions as to why the US authorities did not simply seek him through the Republic’s courts. It is estimated that around 20 extradition warrants for Irish citizens have been turned down by Irish courts in the past five years.
The US authorities now have more than 60 days in which to seek his extradition.
Mr Garland has previously described the accusations as “gross slanders and lies”, but the allegations first surfaced in a book by Bill Gertz, national security correspondent for the the Washington Times.
In 2002 a former KGB agent and two British criminals were jailed by a Birmingham court for their part in distributing the superdollars. Mr Garland was described in court as “the top jolly” of the Official IRA, the group from which the Provisional IRA split in 1969, and accused of acting as the middleman for the notes.
Mr Garland is a major IRA figure of the past century. He joined the British Army in the 1950s in order to steal weapons and later took part on a botched attack on Brookeborough barracks in Co Fermanagh, in which Sean South and Fergal O’Hanlon were shot dead.
Under fire Mr Garland carried the dying South on his shoulder back across the border, earning a place in a famous Republican ballad commemorating the deed.