24 jailed over cocaine smuggle plot

Twenty-four members of an international drugs gang have been handed jail terms ranging from one year to 30 for plotting to smuggle up to 40 tonnes of cocaine into the UK.

The organised crime network, which was dismantled following a three-year investigation led by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), consisted of criminals from London and Liverpool working with overseas traffickers to import cocaine from South and Central America, along with heroin, cannabis and amphetamine from Europe.

Sentencing concluded today at Liverpool Crown Court when Judge David Aubrey QC jailed the final few members of the group.

All 24 were prosecuted for either drugs, money laundering, forgery or identity theft offences.

Gang leader Mehmet Baybasin, based in London, was found guilty of conspiracy to import up to three tonnes of cocaine after an eight-week trial.

His counterpart in Liverpool, Paul Taylor, pleaded guilty to the same charge. Both were dealt with last week.

Baybasin, 48, of Fairfield Crescent, Edgware, north-west London, received a 30-year sentence and Taylor, of Paul Orr Court, Liverpool, was jailed for 22 years.

Baybasin and Taylor's associates received sentences ranging from one to 23 years in jail.

A Soca spokesman said officers planted listening devices to monitor conversations between members of the network, carried out surveillance throughout the UK, and analysed "masses" of phone data.

The court heard that Baybasin planned to use his established contacts in the global drugs trade to supply the cocaine to Taylor and his associates.

If a three-tonne test shipment was a success, Taylor said there was a "stockpile" of 40 tonnes ready to smuggle inside shipments of tinned fish or wood pellets, the court was told.

If all that cocaine had made it to the streets of the UK and was cut before being sold, the court heard it could have been worth around £4 billion.

During sentencing, Judge Aubrey said: "The quantities or potential quantities of drugs that were to come into this country and subsequently flood our street, pubs, homes and clubs and the potential profit that you were seeking or did make is staggering."

Steve Baldwin, head of investigations in the North West for Soca, said: "This was a highly sophisticated network with a very clear focus. Baybasin, Taylor and their cronies lived and breathed drug trafficking. It's all they ever talked about and, while they talked, Soca listened and watched."

Soca and its partners also derailed the network's attempts to import heroin from the Netherlands.

During the investigation officers seized 22lb (10kg) of heroin, 110.2lb (50kg) of cannabis resin, 6.6lb (3kg) of cocaine, 441lb (200kg) of amphetamine and more than £420,000 in cash.

A financial investigation into the network is ongoing and there will be a confiscation hearing at a later date, a Soca spokesman said.