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The Irish Times 2017

March 20, 2017

The British ex-gangster helping Irish criminals in Spain

Former bank robber Jason Coghlan says he is the lawyer ‘a Paddy’s going to call’

Sitting in the offices of one of his law firm clients, Jason Coghlan, wears a blazer and tie that lends him an air of formality. He could almost give the impression of being a conventional lawyer.

However, the illusion is shattered when he starts recalling his shady, often violent past, which has taken him from the criminal underworld of northwest England to professional respectability on Spain’s Costa del Sol.

“I was a gangster,” the 46-year-old Stockport native says matter-of-factly.

“I was a bank robber. That was my chosen profession.” Indeed, he was one of the UK’s most notorious, serving 15½ years in jail.

Today, Coghlan is a legal fixer, representing English-speaking expats who find themselves in trouble with the law in Spain.

He puts his clients in touch with the local lawyers he believes will serve them best and then follows the cases closely to ensure success.

“I could do a law degree and be a solicitor,” he says.

“But that would be a waste of time. The skill is finding the right person for the right job . . . I believe in these clients and I’m not going to let some arsehole lawyer extort money from them.”

It has been an unconventional career path for Coghlan. Jailed for armed robbery he pulled off a dramatic escape from custody before he was arrested again to finish his sentence.

Once freed, he moved to southern Spain. Arrested on charges of extortion, he found himself in prison again.

Exasperated by the “poor” legal counsel on offer, he started studying Spanish law, represented himself and was acquitted.

Seeing a market for other expatriates in a similar predicament, Coghlan set up his own company, JaCogLaw, in 2011.

His unique CV, he insists, makes him indispensable.

“Who are hardened gangsters going to turn to?” he asks. “Do they want someone who can’t even pronounce their name or me?” Lawbird is one of the Marbella companies Coghlan works with.
“He covers a very specific requirement for expats who find themselves in trouble with the authorities,” says Antonio Flores, a lawyer with the firm, who says the Spanish legal system is notoriously slow and often difficult to navigate, especially for foreigners.
“He has the legal expertise of himself having been convicted.”

Although the Irish community is not large on the Costa del Sol, the profile of its criminal element has grown in recent months, due to the feud linked to the Kinahan firm which has been played out both in Dublin and Spain.

A spate of Irish gangland murders began with the shooting of Gary Hutch next to a swimming pool just outside Marbella in September 2015.

Another Irishman was shot dead – apparently mistakenly – on the island of Mallorca last August.

Coghlan, who one days plans to retire to his father’s native Co Mayo, feels a particular affinity for his Irish clients.

“There’s no one else a Paddy’s going to call,” he says with a confident chuckle.

Former gangland idol
The sentiment seems to be mutual, with one Irish client christening Coghlan “the Devil’s advocate”.

“These were the kind of people I was reading about when I was a kid,” says another, Dublin-born client, who reveres Coghlan as a former gangland idol.

This young man describes a life of crime as his “vocation” and presents the Costa del Sol as something akin to a criminal utopia.

He is a VIP in an Irish underworld, what he calls “our own subculture”, where his status gets him the best table in certain restaurants and free drinks in pubs.

He learned Spanish during a spell in prison and believes Coghlan’s know-how will keep him from serving more time.

“It may not be everyone’s dream, or your idea of a dream, but for me it’s a dream,” this client says, praising everything from the Spanish climate to the local women and business opportunities.

Not even the suspicion that the Spanish police have bugged his home and car can dampen his enthusiasm.

“The reality of the situation is that this is the superhighway for drug trafficking,” he says.

This chimes with the analysis of one police officer, who says: “The opportunities here [for criminals] are enormous, as are the opportunities for them to associate with people in the same business.”

This officer points to the nearby port of Algeciras, which sits between the Mediterranean and Atlantic, as a magnet for drug trafficking.

Just a few nautical miles away is Morocco, one of the world’s biggest cannabis producers. Right next door is the tax haven of Gibraltar.

“If you then throw in the good weather, the property investment possibilities, it’s a perfect storm,” says the officer.

Although he says the Irish underworld is a concern for the Spanish authorities, he points out that many other nationalities use the coast as a base for criminal operations.

So far, Spaniards’ outrage at the Irish gang murders has been limited.

All of which suggests that Coghlan’s business is likely to continue thriving, despite, or perhaps because of, his unorthodox background and methods.

In 2014 he opened an office in Thailand, where he lived for a time after a spell in prison in the UK.

It offers services to British, Irish, Americans, Australians and other English speakers who find themselves in trouble with the law.

Another office, which he opened in Pakistan in November, tends to advise locals and those with family in the UK – Coghlan says his background has meant he has always had close links to Britain’s Asian community.

But having turned his own back on a life of crime, he is, he says, still helping those who have not.
“When a young man is on a path – on the wrong path – when they are worth saving, I’ll help them,” he says.
“I can empathise, I was a violent man when I was younger,” he adds. “I’m happy with it. I sleep well at night.”