A man from New Cross was behind a £32 million cocaine smuggling operation where drugs were hidden inside a yam shipment from Costa Rica.
Juan David Perea Lopez, 26 of New Cross, 31-year-old and Bashar Fares Al-Safee, from North Kensington, now face a combined 36 years behind bars after the National Crime Agency and Border Force investigation.
Officers had found the class A drugs hidden inside a refrigerated container shipped to London Gateway Port in Essex from Costa Rica, in 2016. It had been due to be delivered to an industrial estate in north-west London.
The cocaine, hidden inside boxes with false bottoms, were found to be between 61 and 68 per cent pure and adulterated with Levamisole, a substance often used to deworm livestock which drug suppliers commonly add to cocaine to increase volume and profits.
NCA officers monitored the container as it arrived at its delivery address on June 9, 2016 before making their move.
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. A third man was released without charge.
Yesterday (Friday, February 26), at Southwark Crown Court Al-Safee was sentenced to 21 years in prison, and Lopez to fifteen years after being found guilty 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 said they were able to link Al-Safee to pre-paid ‘burner’ phones at the specific times they were used to arrange the importation.
They 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.
The National Crime Agency’s head of regional investigations, 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.”