Man convicted of operating ‘dodgy box’ service remanded in custody

Court told further charges brought against Ciaran Donovan relate to investigator’s subscription being renewed in March

An operator of an illegal “dodgy box” app who is awaiting sentence in the Circuit Criminal Court was charged on Wednesday with a related offence in the District Court, the man’s sentencing hearing has heard.

Judge Martina Baxter remanded Ciaran Donovan (41), who had been out on bail, in custody to appear before her again in two weeks’ time despite his counsel “imploring” the judge not to detain him given his family circumstances.

The 41-year-old, a married father of two from Ashfield, Kildare, pleaded guilty last July to money laundering arising from his selling of an app linked to the King Kong Media illegal streaming service between January 2016 and March 2022.

The illegal service allowed viewers access to Sky Sports, BT Sports and other subscription TV services from around the world for a fee of some €70 a year.

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Donovan was operating an app in this jurisdiction that provided access to an international illegal service organised by others, most likely in the UK, whom he paid, the court was told.

The court heard that an investigator with Sky, who took out a controlled annual subscription with the service as part his investigation into Donovan’s operation, had renewed the subscription in March. The new charges brought on Wednesday in the District Court against Donovan, who has yet to plead, were linked to this renewal.

Judge Baxter said the presumption of innocence applied in relation to that matter and she was only dealing with the case before her. The court also heard that the illegal service was still operating as of the weekend.

The court heard that bank accounts linked to Donovan’s operation had seen a total of €470,511 pass through them and that he had admitted to being involved in the illegal activity for five years.

The loss to Sky from the customers involved was estimated at more than €2 million. BT had also investigated the Donovan operation.

The court heard that at one stage when Donovan was before the courts for the non-payment of his TV licence, he took a selfie outside the courts which he posted with the words: “In court for not paying TV licence. How ironic. LOL” and “If only they knew”. The selfie was discovered on a phone seized by gardaí.

The court heard Donovan had 41 previous convictions, including for public order, theft and road traffic offences, as well as for the non-payment of his TV licence.

Desmond Hayes, barrister for Donovan, handed in letters to the judge that outlined matters concerning one of Donovan’s children and the family circumstances. Donovan’s wife worked one day a week and he had a full-time job for the past 10 months and the family had “substantial outgoings”, Mr Hayes said.

When Judge Baxter said she found statements made by Donovan in a letter handed in to her to be “hypocritical”, counsel did not disagree but added that his client had pleaded guilty to the offences before the court.

Seoirse Ó Dúnlaing, for the prosecution, said Donovan’s letter was not one of apology and that he appeared to be saying he had not robbed anybody, had not done anything wrong, and had to deal with a personal issue.

He said an application that bail be revoked in January had not been granted when Donovan undertook to close down the illegal operation.

Judge Baxter said she had adjourned the case in January on that basis and was now told that the illegal service was still active as of the weekend.

“This has been continuing for a number of months now,” she said.

Mr Hayes suggested that the court adjourn matters to allow for developments in the District Court case and said he was “imploring on the court not to remand his client in custody” because of the effect this would have on Donovan’s household.

However, the judge said she had adjourned the case before “to let him deal with this” and remanded Donovan in custody to a further sitting in two weeks.

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