An inside network of drug smugglers at Heathrow have been jailed for more than 130 years following an 18 month investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
The 13-strong group, including two British Airways baggage handlers working at Heathrow Airport, had skilfully imported more than 100kgs of cocaine and 44kgs of cannabis, with a street value of around £10 million. Their operation came to a halt thanks to the work carried out by the NCA in conjunction with Border Force and Heathrow Airport.
Speaking about the drug bust, Brendan Foreman, regional head of investigations is said;
“This kind of corruption threatens the security of the UK border and the public at large which is why the NCA and its partners are tackling it as a priority.
“Border Force, Airport authorities and the airline community were vital in helping us to stop this organised crime group in its tracks and pull together the evidence which lead to them being sentenced to significant jail time today.”
“This was a sophisticated plot and at the centre of it was a man who used his privileged access to Heathrow and insider knowledge of the airport’s systems for criminal purposes.
How did they do it?
According to the NCA, here is how the group managed the operation;
- The drug-filled bags were loaded onto the same plane every week, the BA248 fromt Rio de Janeiro the plane airside in Brazil before the
- Once the bags were off the plane, two British Airways baggage handlers would arrange for the bags containing the drugs to be moved to a baggage carousel for domestic flights. They would also send a picture of the bag to the courier so they knew which bag to look out for.
- To ensure there was no passing through customs, the intended courier would fly in on an internal flight, thus avoiding any checks and going straight through baggage reclaim as there is no need to go through customs controls on a domestic flight.
- They also had accomplices working as intermediaries between the smugglers and couriers, whilst also booking flights and hotels for the operations in place.
And it was as clever as that. Or so they thought.
Not only did the NCA have knowledge of at least 6 imports of cocaine from Brazil between November 2015 and November 2016, they also had call logs between the organisers and various phone numbers in the same country, as well as recordings of several meetings between the drug-ring members, discussing the operation. This was all used in evidence to convict the 13 smugglers.
Director of Border Force Heathrow Nick Jariwalla said:
“Border Force Officers played a crucial role in this lengthy investigation, helping to bring these individuals to justice.
“They used their in-depth knowledge of the infrastructure at Heathrow to provide invaluable insight to colleagues at the National Crime Agency and the final operation to arrest suspects was very much a joint effort.
“This is just one example of how Border Force officers keep restricted and prohibited items out of the country and prevent them getting into the hands of organised crime groups.”
All but one of the members have been sentenced for their crimes; a full list of which can be seen below:
- Wilfred Owusu: Found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine and cannabis in October 2017. Sentenced to 20 years in prison.
- Michael Sutherland: Found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine and possessing crack cocaine with intent to supply in February 2018. Sentenced to 20 years in prison.
- Mohammad Ali: Found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine in February 2018. Sentenced to 15 years in prison.
- Preetam Mungrah: Found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine and cannabis in October 2017. Sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison.
- Francisca Archer: Found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine in February 2018. Sentenced to six years and six months in prison.
- Leiona Townsend-Bartley: Found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine in February 2018. Sentenced to six years in prison.
- Felicia Kufuor: Found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine in February 2018. Due to be sentenced on 1 June 2018.
Those who had previously entered guilty pleas are:
- Joysen Jhurry: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine and cannabis. Sentenced to 16 years in prison.
- Mark Agoro: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine and cannabis. At a separate trial, he was also found guilty of conspiracy to supply cocaine. Sentenced to 14 years and six in prison.
- Damion Goodhall: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine. Sentenced to 11 years and six months in prison.
- Aziz Abdul: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine and cannabis. Sentenced to 9 years and six months in prison.
- Moses Awopetu (courier): Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine. Sentenced to six years and nine months in prison.
- Danovan Bull (courier): Pleaded guilty to possession of class A drugs with intent to supply at Isleworth Crown Court in January 2016 and was sentenced to six years in prison.