Moynihan family’s history of drugs, scandal and power

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Lord Moynihan married his first wife in secret, and would later be dubbed the ‘Playboy Peer’ in the press

It’s a story that has made headlines around the world. A British peer’s daughter found lying dead in a Philippine street next to a sign declaring “drug pusher to the celebrities you’re next!”

Maria Aurora Moynihan, a 45-year-old with dual British-Filipino nationality, appears to have become the latest victim in the crackdown on drugs by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

She had been on bail since her arrest for alleged possession of drugs in 2013.

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Baron’s daughter killed in Philippines

Her death has thrown the spotlight back on her father Antony, the 3rd Baron Moynihan, who himself was linked to international heroin smuggling as well as prostitution and fraud, and spent years on the run.

‘Playboy Peer’

The Moynihan family’s entry into the British aristocracy began in the 1920s when Berkeley Moynihan – a highly-regarded surgeon – was made the 1st Baron Moynihan.

His father Andrew, an army captain, had won the Victoria Cross for bravery during the Crimean War.

But scandal came to the 2nd Baron Moynihan, Patrick, who at the time of his death in 1965 was facing charges of homosexual importuning.

His son Antony Moynihan, the third baron, was born in 1936 and educated at the private school, Stowe.

A sign that his life was not going to follow the traditional route of a peer of the realm was when he married actress and sometime nude model Ann Herbert in secret in 1955.

The marriage quickly turned sour, though, and a year later he fled to Sydney.

There, while working as a bongo drummer in a nightclub, the man who would become known as the “Playboy Peer” met his second wife, Shirin Belly, a Malaysian belly dancer and fire-eater.

They married in 1958, had a daughter, and enjoyed both a move to Ibiza and a belly-dancing tour of Europe during their nine years together.

In 1965, Antony Moynihan – who once worked as chauffeur for notorious slum landlord Peter Rachman – entered the House of Lords, declaring: “I have every intention of shaking this place up. Sparks will fly.”

But his active days in the Lords were short-lived as, by 1970, he was facing dozens of fraud charges over various business and financial transactions.

He would later say he had been given 48 hours’ notice by a man from the CID who offered to make the charges go away for £50,000.

Instead, he fled the country with his, by then third, wife Luz de la Rossa Fernandez, a dancer and the niece of the Philippines’ ambassador to Cambodia.

After a brief spell in Spain, during which British officials sought his extradition, the family landed in the Philippines where he remained for most of the rest of his life.

Maria Aurora was born in 1971, a younger sister for the couple’s first child Antonita, now a famous Filipino actress known as Maritoni Fernandez. A third sister Kathleen was born in 1974.

After learning of her sister’s death this week, Ms Fernandez described her as an “exceptional human being I will forever have the privilege of calling my sister”.

Their parents split in 1980 – the same year Antony Moynihan was described as a “shadowy figure” by an Australian judge investigating Sydney’s drugs world.

Mr Justice Woodward told the New South Wales Royal Drugs Commission the peer “is or was in some way involved in the importation of heroin from Manila”, Australian media reported at the time.

The court also heard he owned a farm where he grew vegetables and flowers, as well as running “massage parlours”.

But when a reporter in the Philippines put the allegations to him, he retorted: “Me shadowy? Isn’t it absurd?”

However, it was widely accepted he had become involved in Manila’s underworld, running a number of brothels, including one called the Yellow Brick Road.

And he did it all without fear; his close connection with then-president Ferdinand Marcos – who he described as a “drinking buddy” – apparently affording him some level of protection.

But after Marcos fell in 1986, that protection disappeared – and Lord Moynihan was suddenly vulnerable to the various international agencies who had been waiting to get their hands on him.

It was avoiding prosecution which led him to play a role in one of the biggest trials of the century: that of the drugs smuggler and former friend Howard Marks.

Lord Moynihan – who by then was on to his fourth marriage – agreed to wear a bug for the US Drugs Enforcement Agency, providing the vital evidence needed to jail Marks in 1989.

Two years later, Lord Moynihan was dead, aged just 55. Scandal, which followed him his whole life, was not quite finished however: a battle over who should inherit his title followed.

His son Daniel – born months before his father’s death in 1991 – was barred from becoming the 4th Baron Moynihan after a ruling that the so-called Playboy Peer’s fifth and final marriage was bigamous.

Instead, the title went to his half-brother, Colin, whose own life could not have been more different than that of his half-sibling.

An Oxford graduate, Colin Moynihan won silver as an Olympic rower, and later went on to be chairman of the British Olympic Association – after a stint as sports minister while he was MP for Lewisham.

Related report – British baron’s daughter shot dead in Philippines amid drug war

Report shared by The BBC