Sources said the aging criminal is likely to have made the visit home to say goodbye to family and friends ahead of his trial
A social media account run by the 53-year-old – who was handed an 18-month sentence on Monday over Gilligan’s failed plot to smuggling cannabis and sleeping pills from Spain to Ireland in parcels of toys and flip-flops – shows he visited Dublin and Belfast in June and July.
Sources said the aging criminal is likely to have made the visit home to say goodbye to family and friends ahead of his trial for offences that carried a maximum sentence of six years and eight months in prison.
“These lads, Gilligan, Armstrong and the rest of them, would have been expecting some kind of a jail sentence prior to the plea deal being agreed,” a source told the Sunday World.
“But as we’ve seen in the past, although police in Spain are highly effective at dismantling criminal operations, the courts there simply don’t seem too inclined to impose heavy sentences on Irish criminals.
“The cost of incarcerating individuals for a lengthy period of time may be a factor.
“Quite often in these cases, plea deals are offered and taken up by criminals like Gilligan and his associates.
“Saying that, I’m sure their lawyers did very well for their clients in this.
“A 22-month suspended sentence and a EUR14,000 fine for Gilligan as opposed to a possible eight years behind bars is the equivalent of winning the lotto for him.
“There’s no doubt he’d have had the book thrown at him if he’d committed the offences at home in Ireland.
“As for the lesser lights in this, Armstrong included, we can only speculate that their pleas were part of the deal that ensured all eight, including Gilligan, would avoid going to prison.”
According to Armstrong’s social media account, he visited Ireland in June and July of this year.
In comments below a photo he posted on July 22nd, showing him posing with his arm around an unnamed associate, Armstrong told a well-wisher: “I’ve been in Ireland over a week now.”
A relative then counters: “You’ve been here a month,” – before asking Armstrong what he made of Dublin?
“I’d allegedly get lost,” Armstrong joked – in an apparent reference to his lengthy exile in Spain.
Armstrong left Ireland after becoming a suspect in bank raid here more than 20 years ago before setting himself up in the restaurant trade in Torrevieja.
He named his diner ‘Fat Tony’s,’ became something of a minor celebrity on Alicante’s social scene, and distributed lighters and cards with the “Fat Tony” logo all across the Costa Blanca town.
The restaurant was located near the Judge’s Chambers pub which was owned by Geraldine Gilligan.
After the business failed, Armstrong moved into the transport business.
The 53-year-old hit the headlines again in 2006 when he was arrested by Spanish police following the discovery of the remains of Westies thugs Stephen Coates and Shane Suggs.
He was held in prison on remand for 10 months before securing his release.
No charges were ever filed against him in connection with the killings.
Armstrong, who is originally from Rathvilly Drive in Finglas, remains in contact with at least one former criminal associate in Ireland.
His friends on his social media account include gangland criminal Wayne Bradley.
Bradley was released from prison in 2016 after serving a sentence for conspiring to steal nearly EUR1 million from a cash in transit van during a raid organised by murdered gang boss Eamonn ‘The Don’ Dunne.
Other pictures posted by Armstrong on his social media account over the summer show the modest circumstances in which he now resides in Spain.
One image shows the 53-year-old posing in a sleeveless T-shirt with family members while in another he is relaxing on a couch in his home.
Armstrong spoke only briefly when he appeared before the magistrate in the Palacio de Justicia in Torrevieja on Monday to acknowledge he was pleading guilty to charges arising from Gilligan’s botched smuggling operation.
The international investigation which led to the arrest of Gilligan, Armstrong and their co-conspirators began after police officers carried out surveillance on another Spanish-based drug gang earlier in 2020.
Undercover officers secretly watched on as the mob held several meetings with Irish connections who were based in Alicante.
The surveillance operation led police officers to Gilligan’s doorstep and prompted authorities to launch Operation Godfather, which targeted the notorious criminal and involved gardai and the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
They then carried out electronic and physical surveillance on Gilligan’s crew and established that the gang was sending drugs to Ireland and the UK through the postal service hidden in boxes of kids’ clothes and toys.
An inspector involved in the investigation told Spanish news outlet La Verdad that the operation led them to believe that Gilligan’s operation “was dedicated to the acquisition of drugs, mainly marijuana, from growers here in the region, to then send it to the United Kingdom through the post office, hidden between boxes of toys.”
The drugs were also allegedly smuggled into Ireland via courier deliveries in boxes containing flip-flops and children’s towels.
Police intercepted four postal shipments containing four kilos of marijuana and 15,000 Zopiclone sleeping pills, known as ‘zimmos’, before moving in on Gilligan at his Torrevieja duplex in October 2020.
Armed police ordered Gilligan to the ground in the raid and reports at the time of his arrest said he soiled himself during the bust.
Asked to comment as he left the court on Monday, Armstrong declined to do so.
John Gilligan’s co-conspirator Fat ‘Tony’ Armstrong spent a month in Ireland over the summer – visiting with family and friends in the expectation he was f…