London: Record £300m Cocaine Haul Seized By UK Border Agency

4 Aug

NEWS UPDATE:

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Video: Britain seizes record cocaine haulAFP:

Officials said the cocaine seized at Southampton was the largest haul of Class A drugs -- classified as those most likely to cause harm -- ever found in Britain

Officials said the cocaine seized at Southampton was the largest haul of Class A …

Police have seized Britain’s largest ever cocaine haul, worth up to £300 million, from a luxury yacht which had sailed from the Caribbean, officials said.

The 1.2-tonne stash was found hidden under the bathing deck of the pleasure cruiser docked in the port of Southampton in southeast England, Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and UK Border Agency (UKBA) said Wednesday.

Police believe the drugs were loaded onto the boat in Venezuela.

In dawn raids Tuesday Dutch police, acting on intelligence from British and French authorities, arrested six men suspected to be involved in an international drugs ring responsible for the shipment.

Officials said it was the largest haul of Class A drugs — classified as those most likely to cause harm — ever found in Britain.

Authorities were alerted to suspicions over the yacht, named Louise, while it was in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean in May.

The boat was then intercepted in Southampton in June on its way to the Netherlands.

Dutch police arrested the yacht’s owner, 60, after raiding his home in the town of Meppel, about 140 kilometres northeast of Amsterdam, and raided a yachting business premises in the southern Dutch town of Waalwijk.

They also arrested the owner’s three sons, aged 34, 32 and 27 and two other associates, both aged 44, a Dutch prosecutors’ spokesman told AFP.

“One is believed to have been the taskmaster behind the drug trafficking,” Wim de Bruin said.

Police also searched two businesses in Antwerp, Belgium, where they confiscated computers, a prosecutors’ statement added.

Deputy director for SOCA International David Armond said the find was “hugely significant for Europe”.

“This seizure is a great success in the international effort to damage and disrupt the cocaine trade, and is a credit to the many nations and organisations involved,” he said.

The drugs, estimated to be worth £50 million wholesale but with a street value of up to £300 million, were found in a specially designed compartment after a six-day search of the 20-metre cruiser.

British border officials said the concealment was “a professional job”.

“The cocaine took up a space of about four cubic metres and was fitted neatly under the diving platform aft with access from the engine room,” a UKBA spokesman said.

“It required some really good blanking panels to hide them and it was ingenious.”

The drug was 90 percent pure compared to the 63 percent average purity of drugs seized at the British border, officials said.

In coming from Venezuela, the cocaine followed a well-worn route.

Gert Rip, Public Prosecutor for the National Prosecutor’s Office in the Netherlands, said: “About 40 percent of all cocaine brought into Europe is trafficked using smuggling routes from the Caribbean.

“Venezuela is often used as a supply line of cocaine for the European market.”

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NEWS UPDATE:

Police have seized Britain’s largest ever cocaine haul, worth up to £300 million, …

A Home Office picture of yacht 'Louise' in which packs of cocaine were found hidden
Police have seized Britain’s largest ever cocaine haul, worth up to £300 million, from a luxury yacht which had sailed from the Caribbean, officials said.

The 1.2-tonne stash was found hidden under the bathing deck of the pleasure cruiser docked in the port of Southampton in southeast England, Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and UK Border Agency (UKBA) said.

Police believe the drugs were loaded onto the boat in Venezuela.

In dawn raids Tuesday Dutch police, acting on intelligence from British and French authorities, arrested six men suspected to be involved in an international drugs ring responsible for the shipment.

Officials said it was the largest haul of Class A drugs — classified as those most likely to cause harm — ever found in Britain.

Authorities were alerted to suspicions over the yacht, named Louise, while it was in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean in May.

The boat was then intercepted in Southampton in June on its way to the Netherlands.

Dutch police arrested the yacht’s owner, 60, after raiding his home in the town of Meppel, about 140 kilometres northeast of Amsterdam, and raided a yachting business premises in the southern Dutch town of Waalwijk.

They also arrested the owner’s three sons, aged 34, 32 and 27 and two other associates, both aged 44, a Dutch prosecutors’ spokesman told AFP.

“One is believed to have been the taskmaster behind the drug trafficking,” Wim de Bruin said.

Police also searched two businesses in Antwerp, Belgium, where they confiscated computers, a prosecutors’ statement added.

Deputy director for SOCA International David Armond said the find was “hugely significant for Europe”.

“This seizure is a great success in the international effort to damage and disrupt the cocaine trade, and is a credit to the many nations and organisations involved,” he said.

The drugs, estimated to be worth £50 million wholesale but with a street value of up to £300 million, were found in a specially designed compartment after a six-day search of the 20-metre cruiser.

British border officials said the concealment was “a professional job”.

“The cocaine took up a space of about four cubic metres and was fitted neatly under the diving platform aft with access from the engine room,” a UKBA spokesman said.

“It required some really good blanking panels to hide them and it was ingenious.”

The drug was 90 percent pure compared to the 63 percent average purity of drugs seized at the British border, officials said.

In coming from Venezuela, the cocaine followed a well-worn route.

Gert Rip, Public Prosecutor for the National Prosecutor’s Office in the Netherlands, said: “About 40 percent of all cocaine brought into Europe is trafficked using smuggling routes from the Caribbean. “Venezuela is often used as a supply line of cocaine for the European market.”

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Record Cocaine Haul Worth £300m Found In UK
Record Cocaine Haul Worth £300m Found In UK

A record quantity of cocaine with a street value of £300m has been seized by the UK Border Agency.

The haul of 1.2 tons was discovered on a luxury yacht after a search which lasted six days.

The Dutch registered yacht, Louise, first aroused the suspicions of French authorities while she was docked in the Caribbean.

Its owners then loaded the vessel onto a ship transporter bound for Holland

It made a scheduled stop in Southampton at the end of May where it was intercepted.

Officials from the UK Border Agency and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) searched the vessel.

The drugs were eventually found hidden deep beneath the bathing platform of the boat.

Officials believe the drugs had been packed inside a specially designed space while the boat was in Venezuela.

The cocaine originated in South America and is 90% pure. The average purity of cocaine seized in the UK is 63%.

The wholesale price of the drugs is estimated at £50m but their street value is a staggering £300m.

 David Armond, deputy director of SOCA International, said the find was “hugely significant.”

The Dutch National Crime Squad arrested six men yesterday in connection with the seizure.

They recovered 100,000 euros, two Harley Davidson motorbikes, two firearms, a silencer and a quantity of ecstasy.

The men include two 44-year-olds, and four others aged from 27 to 60.

All are believed to be Dutch and some are thought to be members of the same family.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said: “This was a significant drugs seizure which was made possible by the co-operation of our international partners.

“UK Border Agency staff have shown vigilance, dedication and determination to uncover this shipment.

“Our efforts have helped bring an international crime gang to book and the message is clear; we will investigate and prosecute anyone who tries to smuggle banned substances through UK borders.”

NEWS UPDATE: ADDITION: 19 July 2011

Six men were sentenced to a total of 100 years in prison today after conspiring to supply close to half-a-tonne of heroin to towns and cities throughout Britain, and launder a minimum of £5m in illicit profits.

Another gang member, Akbar Bukhari, will be sentenced next month after masterminding the trafficking of at least 420kg of the drug between January 2007 and May 2009. He had utilised the knowledge acquired during his time as a business student to keep a detailed ledger of his complex criminal enterprises.

Bukhari was under SOCA surveillance for heroin trafficking when he and an accomplice, David Edwards, were arrested following the handover of a holdall in a street in the Small Heath area of Birmingham.

The bag’s contents included a firearm and ammunition. It also contained the ledger, which was found to identify the five other crime group members as well as their partner organisation in the Netherlands, which would oversee the ‘cutting’ of heroin with other substances to increase eventual profits.

The scale of illegal activity set out by Bukhari led to guilty pleas from himself, Edwards, Lee Whelan, Abdul Haque and Kevin Smith in June 2010. Brian Blankson and Steven Dobson were convicted at trial on 16 May 2011.

SOCA’s Regional Head of Investigations, Richard Watson, said:

“This is the end of the road for a crime group that did major damage to UK communities. It was led by an individual who chose to apply his business aptitude to drug trafficking, and the sheer scale of his gang’s criminal dealings show how important it was that this network was identified and dismantled.

“The lesson for criminal gang members is clearly that no matter how intelligent, educated or professional your associates are, you can never trust them to keep you out of trouble with the law. The members of this network have learnt that the hard way.”

Haque, Dobson, Smith and Edwards were enlisted by Bukhari to divide the drugs into blocks, package them for sale, store and transport them.

Blankson and Whelan were customers of Bukhari’s group who would distribute the drugs to areas of London, Merseyside, the Midlands and Scotland.  

Assisted by SOCA, the Dutch gang was dismantled by the Netherlands’ National Crime Squad, which seized 49kg of cocaine in Rotterdam during the process. The UK investigation was assisted by officers from the Merseyside, Metropolitan, Staffordshire and West Midlands Police forces.

The heroin supplied by Bukhari’s network had an unusual forensic profile, which had been identified by SOCA Project Endorse* in several seizures throughout the UK. Following the arrests made under this investigation, negligible amounts of this particular mix were seen in drugs recovered through law enforcement activity.

NEWS UPDATE: ADDITION:

July 2011

Drugs barons who franchised out their heroin ‘dealerships’ have today been jailed for distributing millions of pounds worth of drugs throughout the UK.

The investigation which involved SOCA, South Yorkshire, West Midlands, West Yorkshire and Humberside police forces revealed that Mohammad Arif Hassan and brothers Hafeez and Rashid Rahman collaborated in trafficking almost 100 kilos of the Class A drug destined for the north of England.

Today in Leeds Crown Court handing down sentences totalling 50 years to the men, His Honour Judge Spencer said:” These men pretended to be upstanding members of the community whilst carrying out illegal drugs trafficking.”

Hassan headed up a Bradford based crime gang with his ‘lieutenants’ Asim Khan and Amur Fiaz. They used a flat in Bradford as a bash house to cut the heroin for onward sale to other ‘casual contract’ conspirators as and when required. Faisal Amin facilitated the link between Hassan and his suppliers.

At the same time brothers Hafeez and Rashid Rahman were operating a similar business based in Sheffield. The joint investigation revealed a clear trading relationship between the two groups, with money and drugs regularly passing between them.

In the four month period between April and July 2010, almost 90kg of high purity heroin was seized at locations in Birmingham, Sheffield and Bradford, along with more than £250,000 in cash.

Hassan, Khan and Fiaz were arrested in July. Searches of a flat in Bradford found documents, quantities of heroin and cocaine, cutting agents, scales, firearms and large quantities of cash.

Forensic evidence linked the Rahmans to Hassan’s gang and two months later Rashid Rahman was arrested in possession of 2kg of heroin. When officers arrested his brother Hafeez less than an hour later and searched his Sheffield flat, they found clear evidence that it was used as a bash house to cut the drugs for onward sale. Police seized heroin, cutting agents, paracetamol and caffeine and a hydraulic press.

SOCA’s Gerry Smyth said, “It’s not unusual for criminal gangs which might be expected to compete with each other to actually collaborate. These men were operating highly profitable criminal enterprises close to the top of the Class A drug supply chain and covering a large geographical area. The harm they had the potential to cause was enormous. Taking out their collective networks has interrupted a significant supply route.”

Andrew Penhale of the CPS Organised Crime Division said: “This case involved a conspiracy to supply a significant quantity of heroin in West and South Yorkshire, over a number of months. The profits generated from this business are substantial, as shown by the seizure of £150,000 on one occasion. Following a series of drug seizures, involving close co-operation between police forces and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), the CPS Organised Crime Division has successfully prosecuted the men behind the conspiracy who were linked by surveillance and telephone data to the individuals handling drugs on the ground.”

Detective Sergeant Steve Walters, from West Midlands Police, said: “This was a significant haul of drugs which were almost certainly destined for the streets of Birmingham. The trade of illegal drugs across the West Midlands not only harms the lives of users, but also fuels further criminality which negatively impacts on communities. Along with our partners, West Midlands Police will always take robust action against those involved in drug crime.”

Detective Superintendent, Richard Fewkes, from South Yorkshire Police, said: “This is an excellent example of how law enforcement agencies across the region can collaborate to disrupt and bring to justice organised criminal gangs. The impact this type of operation has on the supply of harmful drugs to local communities in South Yorkshire should not be underestimated.”

A West Yorkshire Police Spokesperson said: “This is an excellent example of the joint working between law enforcement agencies and how when criminals work across Force boundaries, their activities do not go unnoticed and we are able to mount operations in order to disrupt their criminality and bring offenders to justice.”

Notes:

*Project Endorse is a nationwide forensic initiative to collect and analyse information from UK Class A and amphetamine seizures. More information can be found at http://www.soca.gov.uk/threats/drugs/forensic-intelligence 

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