By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Four men are being questioned by gardai after a raid on a cross-border counterfeiting operation near the Louth/Armagh border linked to the Real IRA.
The weekend raid followed an embarrassing clash with paramilitaries on Dec. 13 when armed men wearing balaclavas held unarmed gardai and customs officers at gunpoint close to the border with Northern Ireland.
The incident happened on a road north of Dundalk less than 24 hours after President Clinton had addressed a rally in the town square in support of the peace process.
Customs officers had discovered a diesel "washing" plant at Carrickameena, Co. Louth, about three-quarters of a mile south of the border with County Armagh.
Cheaper diesel for agricultural use is sold with a dye additive in Ireland. Fraudsters "launder" out the dye with chemicals and resell it for use in cars and trucks.
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When the customs officers raided the premises, they also found a van being used as a mobile shop that was loaded with counterfeit DVD players, videos, computer games and CDs.
As a result of the new find — estimated to have had a black market value of about £100,000 — three garda were called in by the customs officers.
As a more extensive search was being made, seven men masked men in camouflage uniforms appeared armed with at least one handgun and a rifle as well as sticks and bars.
"They held up our men and the customs staff while the counterfeit goods were driven away in the direction of the border. Afterward, they made off in the direction of the border," a Garda spokesman said.
Heavily armed members of the Garda’s Emergency Response Unit backed up last weekend’s operation when thousands of pirate videos and CDs were found.
When a disused garage was raided, three machines were in operation, each with the capacity to copy 24 CDs at once.
Gardai believe dissident republicans are operating a number of "factories" along the border making pirate goods that are then sold in markets both in Northern Ireland the Republic.