Two men face a combined 36 years in prison after a National Crime Agency investigation found they were behind an attempt to smuggle cocaine worth £32million into the UK.
Juan David Perea Lopez, 26 of New Cross, London, and Bashar Fares Al-Safee, 31 from North Kensington, London, arranged to import 400kg of the class A drug, hidden in a consignment of yams from Costa Rica.
On 4 June 2016 NCA and Border Force officers examined a refrigerated container that had been shipped from Costa Rica to the London Gateway Port in Essex, and was due to be delivered to an industrial estate in North-West London.
Inside the container were pallets containing boxes of yams. However, officers identified that a number of the boxes contained false bottoms that were being used to conceal compressed blocks of powder, which tested positive as cocaine.
The drugs were found to be 61% – 68%, pure and had been adulterated with Levamisole – a substance legitimately used to deworm livestock, but which drug suppliers commonly add to cocaine to increase volume and profits.
On 09 June 2016, the container arrived at the delivery address, where Juan David Perea Lopez, was waiting to receive it.
He unloaded the pallets with the assistance of another man. This took several hours, during which time Bashar Fares Al-Safee arrived to help oversee the process.
When the task was complete, NCA officers moved in to arrest all three men. Lopez and Al-Safee were later charged with one count of conspiracy to import class A drugs, and one count of conspiracy to supply class A drugs.
The third man was released without charge.
Today ( 26 February), at Southwark Crown Court. Al-Safee was sentenced to 21 years in prison, and Lopez to 15 years. The pair were found guilty yesterday (25 February) following a seven week trial.
The NCA investigation found that Lopez had leased the £17,000 per-quarter industrial unit by pretending to work as an assistant to a Saudi Arabian Sheikh who needed the space to store high value cars.
Al-Safee had also hijacked the identity of a real fruit import business and set up false e-mail addresses and a virtual office in an attempt to appear legitimate.
NCA investigators were able to link Al-Safee to pre-paid ‘burner’ phones at the specific times they were used to arrange the importation, and also obtained expert voice analysis to show that Al-Safee had arranged payment for the shipment with currency brokers – despite him using a false name.
The company that sent the consignment was investigated by Costa Rican authorities. This resulted in the arrest of one of the directors and the seizure of a tonne of cocaine following the search of a fruit packing plant.
Regional Head of Investigations at the National Crime Agency, Jacque Beer, said:
“This seizure and the investigation that followed has kept a huge quantity of cocaine off UK streets, and brought traffickers to account in the UK and Central America.
“Lopez and Al-Safee sought to profit from a trade that fuels violence and exploitation throughout the UK and all along the international supply chain.
“Working with partners like Border Force and law enforcement colleagues around the world, the NCA is determined to protect the public from the impact of class A drug trafficking, and to pursue those behind it.”
Rose-Marie Franton, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service International Justice and Organised Crime Division, said: “Throughout this investigation, the CPS has worked closely with the NCA to provide early strategic advice and build a strong and robust criminal case against this organised crime group.
“While Lopez and Al-Safee continued to deny being part of this high-value cocaine smuggling ring, our prosecution successfully used the evidence gathered through this investigation, including the contact between the two men around the time of the delivery and the lies told, to prove their direct involvement and bring them to justice.”