AN international drug trafficking network, built by Ireland's wealthiest criminal Christy Kinahan, is back in business, gardai believe. Operation Shovel, the European police crackdown that emanated from the work of the Garda National Drugs Unit (GNDU), dismantled the multi-million euro empire. But officers say that the gang members have "re-invented" themselves and are using old contacts in Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium to renew their role in drug trafficking. Kinahan (53) is regarded by gardai as being in the top tier of drug traffickers in the European league. "He's a 'Premiership' player," one officer said. "There is no doubt that Shovel caused major disruption of their lucrative business. But a leopard doesn't change its spots and we don't expect these people to undergo a conversion on the road to Damascus." Officers say co-operation between law enforcement agencies in Europe is "second to none and allows gardai to focus on Irish organised crime gangs (OCGs) involved in trafficking drugs that end up in Ireland". "Drug trafficking has always been a borderless crime for the gangs but now it is more or less borderless for us as the co-operation allows us to overcome former legal obstacles. "Law enforcement groups can reach out and take them, no matter who they are or where they are," the officer said. The mayhem created by Operation Shovel is partly responsible for the reduction in drug shipments coming into the country. "It's hard to quantify how much is due to Shovel and other intelligence successes and to the reduced demand arising from the recession." The fatal shooting of Eamon Dunne last year has also had an impact on the trafficking scene here and it has taken his old gang time to regroup after the murder. Not all of them have stayed together, but gardai are satisfied that some of them are again operating as an OCG even if the gang is not as potent as before the murder and does not represent the same threat. Others are keeping a lower profile and detectives say the personnel changes among the gangs have become very fluid. The GNDU does not operate on the basis of a Mr Big or Number One target. "We focus on certain figures, based on intelligence, public need and resources, but we don't respond to public outcry. A lot of the time we are dealing with relative unknowns, who can become big in the future," the officer said. The profits built up by gang leaders from drug trafficking and other crimes are assessed by the Criminal Assets Bureau. But many of those who make the headlines and live flash lifestyles in pubs and clubs, driving fast cars and surrounding themselves with "models", usually end up with little money at the end of their short-lived careers.