Christy Kinahan and John Cunningham have prospered in Spain for so long because they are consummate diplomats who are able to easily integrate with the international drug syndicates who hold the real power in the region. Discretion, respect and a low profile are the keys to a successful career as a drug baron and if you play by the long-established rules and keep a low profile you will generally be left to get on with your business.
Unfortunately, many Irish drug dealers have stepped on powerful toes in the Costa del Sol in recent years and have paid the ultimate price. Young Irish dealers invariably suffer from the 'small fish in a big pond' syndrome. They are powerful hardmen in the tiny Irish market, but when they move to Spain they are mere minnows but don't realise this and end up crossing the all-powerful Russian, Turkish and Israeli mafias.
One of the most notable examples of foolish Irish dealers acting above their station occurred in January 2004 when the leaders of the infamous Blanchardstown drug gang the 'Westies', Stephen Sugg and Shane Coates disappeared in Alicante. The pair had tried to double-cross the Russian mob during a drug deal and vanished without a trace after being lured to a meeting.
It was not until July 2006 that their bodies were found in a concrete grave next to a warehouse in Catral. They had both been shot in the head.
In September 2005, well-known dealer Sean Dunne from Donaghmede in north Dublin disappeared without a trace. His own family believe he was murdered and chopped up and buried in an unmarked grave. His body has never been found.
In January 2007, John 'The Mexican' McKeown, who sourced drugs for Martin 'Marlo' Hyland's Finglas-based drugs operation also disappeared without a trace and is presumed to have been murdered.
In January 2009, drug dealer Richard Keogh from Cabra in Dublin was shot in the head in Benalmadena. The Venezuelan mafia are believed to have been responsible although Spanish police now believe Christy Kinahan may have also been involved.
In February 2008, 28-year-old Paddy Doyle, the feared 'enforcer' for the Freddie Thompson Crumlin drugs gang, was shot dead in Cancelada, a few miles away from Malaga. He had fled Ireland after carrying out three murders in 48 hours in November 2005. He established himself in Marbella and was working with Christy Kinahan and John Cunningham.
However, he refused to pay a debt owed to the Turkish mob for a €2.4m heroin shipment that was seized by gardaí in Dublin.
When he was told there would be severe consequences if he didn't settle the debt, Doyle responded that he would murder the Turks. A few days later his jeep was ambushed and he was coldly executed at the side of the road by the ruthless Turks.
Again, Spanish police suspect Kinahan may have been behind the hit. Freddie Thompson was in the back seat and emerged unscathed.
Paddy Doyle was another small Irish fish way out of his depth, operating alongside the international sharks.