Thursday, March 12, 2009

Celtic supporters club run by hoodlums
Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)

October 1, 2000 - Lavery, Charles

A SCOTS couple who fronted a money-laundering pub in Ireland for a notorious underworld boss are now running the Celtic Supporters' Club in Glasgow.

John and Mary Hughes ran the Paradise Bar in Donegal, Ireland, after buying it with £120,000 cash provided by Glasgow's "Licensee", Thomas McGraw.

The couple ran the pub until February 1998 when Irish police raided it after a lengthy surveillance operation.

Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau has tough powers to confiscate property or assets they believe to be the proceeds of criminal activity. Suspects must then prove in court that they obtained the assets legitimately.

In this case, the authorities re-sold the pub six months after they seized it for almost double the price the Hughes paid.

That profit was then frozen in the Irish system for seven years in case of any appeal.

Now John Hughes, 59, and wife Mary are running the Celtic Supporters' Club at 1524 London Road, Glasgow.

In a licence granted by Glasgow Sheriff Court, John Hughes is listed as chairman, while Mary is named as treasurer.

William Graham, also known as Finbar O'Brannigan, is a member of the committee, too, despite a number of previous convictions for violence and sex offences.

Graham caused a furore last season when he barred Sunday Mail writer Hugh Keevins from an official Celtic FC press conference at the club.

Police have lodged a letter in the file which states that they have no objection to the granting of the liquor and gaming licence, which is now valid until next year at the earliest.

The Irish resort of Donegal seems a million miles from Glasgow's grim gangland scene.

But officers involved in the Criminal Assets Bureau inquiry were thrown headlong into investigating one of Scotland's most notorious gangs as part of the far-reaching inquiry.

The focus of the investigation at that time was that the Paradise Bar was used as a front for money-laundering by McGraw to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Police were so concerned about the links that they closed down the bar and later re-sold it.

John and Mary Hughes were arrested and their home and pub raided, but they were later released without charge.

They also gave evidence at a major drugs trial in July 1998 at which McGraw walked free from charges that he masterminded a major cannabis smuggling ring.

Crown witnesses John and Mary were believed to have been relocated at that time by Strathclyde Police's witness protection programme.

Of the 10 men who stood trial three, including gang lord John Healey, were jailed for a total of 24 years.

McGraw, who made his fortune from ice cream vans in Glasgow's tough housing schemes, walked away with a not proven verdict.

John and Mary Hughes have been involved in the licensed trade business for decades in and around Glasgow.

A lifelong Celtic fan, Hughes has rubbed shoulders in the past with some of the club's greats, including Dixie Deans, Lou Macari and even celebrity supporter, Rod Stewart.

He used his Celtic connections to entice Bertie Auld and Jimmy Johnstone to the opening of a football pavilion for Donegal's local team.

Celtic and Scotland memorabilia adorned the walls of his pub, including a signed Scotland strip from ex-Celtic captain Paul McStay. Former Celtic midfielder Phil O'Donnell also attended the pub's opening night.

Hughes even persuaded Coronation Street actors Sean Wilson (Martin Platt) and Peter Armitage (Bill Webster) to attend the gala opening in Donegal.

In February 1998, John and Mary Hughes were interviewed by police over bank accounts they had opened in Ireland for McGraw.

They said they had known McGraw for years and considered him a friend. They admitted they had opened a bank account at the Allied Irish Bank on his behalf and John Hughes told police he had personally introduced McGraw to the bank's manager.

They said they had wanted to retire to Ireland and McGraw had given them the £120,000 to buy the bar. Mary Hughes bought the pub in her own name and said the cash from McGraw was simply a loan.

But officers could find no re-payment documentation. Hughes told officers she believed McGraw would simply take over the pub when they died or retired.

John Hughes added that he travelled to Glasgow on a number of occasions and took cash from McGraw back to Ireland to deposit in the new account.

The sums involved were believed to be well in excess of £100,000.

The couple said they believed it was McGraw trying to avoid paying tax on his UK income and were oblivious to any allegations of laundering drugs cash.

McGraw also gave the couple £67,000 to refurbish the Paradise Bar, but, again, there was no mechanism for them to make repayment.

Last night, Hughes and his wife were not at home for comment.

A spokesman for the Celtic Supporters' Association, who stressed the Glasgow and West of Scotland Supporters' Club was a separate organisation, claimed the couple had resigned.

But according to a licence granted just two weeks ago, they are still the club's chairman and treasurer.

The spokesman added : "I understand John and Mary Hughes have resigned. I do not know where they are."

Asked about the Paradise Bar and whether the Association members were aware of the couple's background with McGraw, the spokesman replied: "No comment."

He added: "We rent them the space, what they do with it is up to them.

"As long as they pay the rent, we are happy.

"I can only imagine the club hasn't got around to changing the details on the licensing application. Maybe they resigned, but it was too late to change the names on the licence."

A police insider said: "They are well known for their links to McGraw.

"It raises serious questions about whether the club is being run in an appropriate manner.

"I know the police have these two on their intelligence files, and they were keeping an eye on them.

"McGraw is the man the police want, so anybody connected to him will be looked at very closely."
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