The alleged head of a crime gang trying to import millions of pounds worth of drugs into the north must remain in custody, a High Court judge ruled on Thursday.
Mr Justice Maguire refused Declan Gallagher’s bail application after hearing claims he was at the top of a criminal “pyramid” with links to both loyalist and republican paramilitaries.
Prosecutors also said he has connections in Spain and may flee if released.
Gallagher, 32, originally from Derry but with an address in the north of England, faces 17 drugs-related charges.
The alleged offences, spanning a period between September 2013 and October 2014, are linked to an investigation into a series of cannabis and cocaine seizures.
More than £2 million worth of drugs have been recovered and 18 people charged as part of the ongoing probe.
Gallagher is accused of multiple counts of conspiracy to supply and being concerned in the supply of cocaine and cannabis.
Setting out the former driving instructor’s alleged role, prosecutor Stephanie Boyd said: “Mr Gallagher is at the top of the pyramid in this case.“He’s involved in six interventions (involving) £2.1 million worth of drugs.
“There’s been no further detections since Mr Gallagher has been in custody in relation to this gang.”
Opposing his bid for bail, the barrister expressed fears that he could leave the UK.
“He has a close associate in Spain who police know he has had contact with and they are concerned he will flee the jurisdiction,” she told the court.
The drugs operation has been traced to Derry, Belfast and Lisburn, it was claimed.
According to Mrs Boyd those involved in the alleged drugs-importation racket straddle both sides of Northern Ireland’s sectarian divide.
“Police say they have connections to both loyalist and republican paramilitaries,” she said.
“They have no connections with each other, but at the top of the pile all the connections look back to Mr Gallagher.”
Defence counsel sought his release based on the time spent in custody since his arrest last October.
It was argued that he is unlikely to get a date for any trial until 2016.
But refusing bail, Mr Justice Maguire pointed to prosecution submissions that a preliminary inquiry is expected by this autumn.
He said: “That would not be out of line with many cases where there is complexity (and) this is a case of some complexity.”