Former GAA star accused of crystal meth smuggling
A former GAA star has been accused in Hong Kong of being part of an international crystal meth smuggling ring.
Brendan Toner was allegedly caught trying to smuggle the killer narcotic - also known as ice - from Hong Kong to Australia in a multi-million euro operation.
Police in Hong Kong allege that the drugs were discovered hidden in the former player's luggage as he prepared to board a flight from Hong Kong to Australia last year.
Toner (62) was released on bail in September after 17 months on remand in a Hong Kong prison with alleged fellow drug mules from Australia, America and Holland.
If convicted, he faces 20 years behind bars in Hong Kong.
A number of his co-accused have claimed to be victims of a West African crime syndicate.
Toner, originally from Castlewellan, Co Down, said he was reluctant to discuss his case for legal reasons, but added that he was "coping great" with "no problems".
Toner, who played for Down senior footballers, was one of nine alleged drug mules allegedly caught with between 1.5kg and 4kg of crystal meth hidden in their luggage.
Four co-defendants from Australia have claimed that they were all lured by a West African crime gang.
They claimed that the gang grooms vulnerable people online into taking an all-expenses paid trip to Hong Kong on the lure of a financial deal, a romance, an inheritance or a humanitarian project.
Once in Hong Kong, they said they were handed luggage to take to Australia which contained - unknown to them - the crystal meth hidden in the lining or in items inside.
The group were caught at Hong Kong airport with a total of $36m Australian dollars (€23m) worth of the drug ice, weighing 29.5kgs, as they set off for Australia and New Zealand between April 2014 and March 2015. Toner, who moved to England from Castlewellan several years ago, travelled to Hong Kong on April 13, 2014 from Newcastle Upon Tyne.
He was then due to travel on to Australia on April 21, 2014, but was arrested at the airport.
He was charged with one count of trafficking dangerous drugs and remanded in custody.
He would most likely serve his sentence at the maximum security Stanley Prison - listed by support groups as among the toughest jails in the world.
After a year-and-a-half behind bars awaiting trial, Toner was released on bail in September to report to police every week. His passport was seized so that he couldn't leave the country.
During the bail hearing, a judge said that each of the accused - seven men and two women who are all aged between 44 and 75 - had been caught with a significant quantity of drugs.
The court also heard that one of the accused had been warned by the Australian Federal Police that he may be the victim of a scam before he left Brisbane Airport for Hong Kong late last year.
Earlier this month Toner had his bail extended.