A GANG claiming to be from the IRA tried to blackmail thousands of pounds from a businessman known only as Witness A, a court has heard on Wednesday.
John Clarke, 37 and from Ardglen Place in west Belfast, denies a single charge of blackmailing £12,500 from the man on dates between 15 to 24 September 2010.
Opening the prosecution case against Clarke at Belfast Crown Court on Tuesday, Ciaran Murphy QC claimed that the accused had visited Witness A’s business and had also been responsible for the majority of demanding phonecalls the alleged victim received.
Two other Belfast men, William Barker, 40 and from Filbert Drive, and Christopher Notorantonio, 41 and from Avoca Close, have already pleaded to the same charge and are awaiting sentence.
Mr Murphy told the no-jury trial in front of Judge Kinney that according to the Crown case, Clarke and another man visited Witness A at his work on Wednesday, September 15.
They demanded that he hand over £8,500 by that Friday as the pair claimed that they knew he had been involved with a man, who had allegedly been shot in the legs three days earlier.
“The men said it was all about the IRA and Witness A said he would sort something out,” claimed the lawyer.
On the Friday, Mr Murphy said that Witness A received numerous phonecalls alleging that the press were “jumping at the bit for a story” so he withdrew the cash from his bank account and handed it over to two men at an arranged meeting in south Belfast.
One of those men, claimed the lawyer, was Clarke and the other was Barker.
Clarke allegedly demanded “a further £4,000” because “the bosses wanted another £4,000…and at the end of the day, it was more money for the army.”
Other phonecalls occurred but in fear of his life, Witness A reported the matter to the police on 21 September and all further calls were recorded, Mr Murphy told the court.
A further handover of cash was arranged for 24 September and the police gave Witness A an envelope with £3,000 in it, which he handed over the Barker later that day.
Barker was driven away in a black Vauxhall Vectra and when it was stopped nearby, police recovered the cash from the glove box and arrested Notorantonio, who had been driving.
During police interviews after his arrest, Clarke admitted going to Witness A’s business with Barker, but claimed he had been “collecting a legitimate debt”.
The trial continues.