NERO TO ZERO: Kinahan ‘financier’ and ‘enforcer’ arrested after seizure of 200 kilograms of cocaine and €500,000 cash last year

HE has long been one of the Costas most feared ‘businessmen’.

A former Manchester doorman, Johnny Morrissey, 62, was this week led out of his own front door in handcuffs.

The notorious boss of Nero Vodka, John Francis Morrissey – nicknamed Johnny Cash – is accused of laundering €200 million in a giant blow against the Kinahan drugs cartel.

The expat of 20 years is said to be the enforcer of the Irish crime clan, which has terrorised the Costa del Sol for the last two decades, with numerous shootings and settling of scores.

Morrissey, who regularly splashed the cash in a series of glossy, double page spreads in his favourite weekly newspaper, was arrested in one of his Mijas apartments.

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Alongside his wife Nicola, 47, he was snared in a massive Europol police operation that involved officers from five different countries.

With a helicopter buzzing around overhead, the Rochdale hardman was ignominiously cuffed in a pair of tight Hawaiian shorts, his beer gut protruding above.

A video showed police turn over one of his various Costa homes (police have so far searched 11 in total) while his attractive wife stuck up a finger at a photographer as she was led to a police car.

The four minute film showed passports, watches and other documentation being laid out on a bed as he sat next to a bottle of his vodka – which police claim he used to launder his cash.

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Morrissey seated while police search his property

Later in the footage, a machete is found hidden under a bed.

It was only a matter of time before the pair were finally pulled in, with Morrissey being flagged by the US Treasury and Drugs Enforcement Agency in April.

He was named, along with five other men, as being a key ‘enforcer’ and suspect in the facilitating and financing of the criminal activities of the Kinahans who control huge parts of the UK cocaine trade.

The operation involved agents from the British NCA, Irish GARDA, America’s DEA, Dutch Politei and Europol’s European Centre for Financial and Economic Crime.

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Officers from the UK, Ireland, the USA and the Netherlands took part

The Guardia Civil later confirmed that Morrissey was at the head of the ‘most important’ international criminal organisation operating in Spain dedicated to money laundering.

In little more than a year and a half Morrisey is believed to have laundered more than €200million (around €350,000 a day).

The money was transferred using the ‘Hawala’ underground banking system, an informal method of transferring money without any physical money actually moving.

A Europol press release explained: “Based in Spain, the main suspect and his associates were in charge of collecting large amounts of cash from criminal organisations which they would deliver to other criminal organisations in other countries.”

The investigation, carried out by the Guardia Civil’s Organised Crime Team, based in Malaga, and coordinated internationally by the Technical Unit of the Judicial Police (UTPJ), began with a series of drug seizures in early 2021.

In the raids, which were not announced to the media, over 200 kilograms of cocaine and around €500,000 in cash were seized from hidden compartments in cars around Malaga province.

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Hidden compartments in cars

In a police video released today detectives are seen opening up a series of hidden compartments in vehicles in a ‘car pound’ believed to be in Mijas.

A well known local car dealer was arrested at the scene, while others were seen lying on the ground.

Morrissey and his wife Nicola led a high profile life promoting the Nero vodka brand on the Costa del Sol and mixing with models and celebrities as well as high profile members of Marbella society.

He portrayed himself as a successful businessman and filled his social media profile with photographs at restaurants, beaches and parties, almost always accompanied by Nicola.

To better spread the message he took out frequent spreads in Fuengirola-based newspaper Euro Weekly News, proclaiming the success of the brand at a series of glamorous events.

He lived in a mansion and was building a two-storey beauty and wellness clinic in Mijas Costa decorated with lavish bronze sculptures in the shape of deer, centaurs and flamingos.

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Building work at the ‘wellness centre’

Yet, Ireland-born Morrissey was raised in Rochdale and spent much of his early life earning a fearsome reputation in Manchester before moving to Ireland and later Marbella.

Things came unstuck when he had to flee Ireland more than 20 years ago after reportedly being involved in an attempt to hurt a Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) officer investigating him.

Former CAB officer Felix McKenna earlier this year linked him to the attempt to attack a prominent Bureau officer before he left Ireland having had more than €600,000 worth of cash and property seized.

Morrissey was soon living in Marbella and became a larger than life character, known for his links to the underworld, but also celebrities.

He was a friend of the late Freddie Starr, who used to appear in a nightclub allegedly owned by Morrissey in Fuengirola.

He is also suspected of bankrolling the final days of notorious timeshare scammer Toni Muldoon who died in 2019. 

Muldoon was jailed for seven and a half years for ripping off ordinary people to the tune of tens of millions over the years.

The convicted fraudster set up male dating sites around the UK, as well as a timeshare-type scam that snared €6.6 million. On his release from jail he led a low profile life allegedly financed by ‘old pal’ Morrissey.

Speaking to the Olive Press, a Guardia Civil officer explained how suspicions were raised about Morrissey and his wife Nicola last year.

While she was the owner on paper, based out of the Elviria Business Centre, he acted as the ‘ambassador’ for the company, with connections to Gibraltar and Glasgow.

The officer revealed this afternoon: “He and his wife were spending a lot of money around the Costa del Sol, but their vodka company did not make a lot of profit.

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Police say Nero was a front company

“Despite this, the brand was always sponsoring big events in Marbella.

“The vodka brand launched in the UK, but when the US Treasury Department exposed it as being linked to the Kinahans, they closed the company and moved it to Spain and Gibraltar.”

He added: “In the UK media they are saying that this man committed 38 murders, but the Guardia Civil is not aware of any of these.

“What I can confirm is that he used to live in a very exclusive mansion in Marbella, but when the US Treasury linked him to the Kinahans, he moved to a small apartment in Mijas. That’s where we picked him up.”

A Europol spokesman said that Morrissey and his associates were in charge of collecting large amounts of cash from drug gangs, which they would then ‘deliver’ to other criminal groups across Europe and the UK.

Another suspect who ran a car dealership was arrested in Manchester.

Morrissey was remanded in custody at a hearing in Malaga on Wednesday.

Two other suspects – a man and a woman – were also in court in Spain on Wednesday.

The man was also remanded in custody while the woman was released on bail.

He was allegedly in charge of providing vehicles to the gang in which he had built concealed compartments to transport the large amounts of cash and drugs undetected. 

The US Treasury Department blacklisted Morrissey last April and announced a $5 million reward for any citizen offering information on the whereabouts of the three leaders of his organisation: Christopher Vincent Kinahan, and his sons Daniel Joseph Kinahan and Christopher Vincent Kinahan Jr. The trio are known to have moved to Dubai.

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US Treasury graphic of Morrissey’s links to the Kinahans

According to the United States, Morrissey held a key position on the second rung of the clan’s leadership structure.

The US Treasury Department reported that his role consisted of “materially assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support, or goods or services to support the Kinahans’ criminal organisation, including as a hitman and broker of international drug shipments from South America”.

Owner of the Euro Weekly News Michel Euesden admitted to Sunday World in Ireland, she had helped the Morrisseys market Nero Vodka and even secured Nicola a meeting with Spanish department store El Corte Ingles, where the brand was later stocked.

She insisted she never got paid by the Morrisseys and they dispensed of her services as they pushed into the UK. “Every month on my books that debt is still there. They never paid me,” she said.

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