Two brothers have been sentenced to 11 years in prison this week after pleading guilty to their part in attempting to smuggle an estimated 1.5kgs of cocaine out of Venezuela last March.
Leigh (24 ) and Dermot (20 ) O’Neill, with addresses at Parnell Square, Athlone were arrested outside Irish consulate offices in the capital Caracas on March 20, after a man they had shared a room with in the nearby Hotel Mayor was pronounced dead.
The dead man was Martin Beirne (27 ) from Boyle, Co Roscommon, and a post mortem showed that six of the 90 balloons of cocaine he had swallowed had burst.
A receptionist at the hotel gave evidence at the trial last week that both brothers had sought assistance for Beirne at 4am on the night in question and had fled the scene after he collapsed coughing blood.
Forensic officers told the court they found a digital weighing scales and traces of cocaine in the hotel room where the three men were staying.
When removed to hospital on the night, an X-ray of Leigh showed a large number of swallowed foreign objects, and he eventually passed 92 balloons of cocaine, weighing just under 0.75kg, with an estimated street value of around €50,000.
No cocaine was found in Dermot O’Neill and, according to a third brother Daniel who has visited them in prison, “was in Venezuela visiting bars and museums”.
The dead man Beirne had been on the run from Ireland for three and a half years since skipping out on a drug dealing trial in Sligo.
He had a number of previous convictions for possession of cocaine and cannabis, and was known to gardaí as a low-level associate of a “ruthless” crime family in that town.
The brothers are to spend their sentence in the San Juan de Los Morros jail, whose population is believed to be four times larger than that for which it was designed.
A Caracas-based Irish priest is believed to visit the brothers each week, while the Irish Embassy in Mexico is maintaining a watching brief on their situation.