Cannabis smuggling gang facing jail

Members of Britain's largest skunk cannabis smuggling ring carried holdalls stuffed with hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash to launder at a foreign exchange, a court heard today.

The gang had so much money they left bundles of bank notes rotting in a forgotten underground safe.



To get around the problem they used an east London bureau de change to clean up their dirty profits, Southwark Crown Court heard.



Members of the gang were seen carrying bags stuffed with up to £200,000 into the World Currency Exchange.



A money counting machine recovered from the bureau de change had processed 520,000 individual notes - the equivalent of £10 million in £20 bills - the court heard.



Ringleader Terrence Bowler and 11 other gang members are facing jail.



The gang brought at least £62 million of skunk cannabis into the UK hidden in boxes of flowers from Holland.



At one point they were shipping in consignments worth up to £750,000 a week.



Timothy Cray, prosecuting, said their activities amounted to "organised crime involving drug smuggling and money laundering on a massive scale".



He told the court police had the gang under surveillance from August 2007 to November 2008.



The defendants used rented lock-ups and garages in south-west London and north Surrey to store the drugs.



Mr Cray said: "The cash-rich nature of the business set the defendants a number of challenges.



"Storage of these amounts of money was something that caused the conspirators difficulty."



He said one garage used by the defendants had built-in floor safes where £392,000 in cash was found, including £60,000 which had rotted through water damage.



He said money was laundered at the World Currency Exchange, run by defendant Asim Bashir, where it was hidden among legitimate transactions.



Mr Cray said: "The holdalls they carried in there contained approximately, as a maximum, £200,000 in £20 notes."



When the men were arrested police seized 2,125lb (964kg) of skunk and £550,000 in cash.



Mr Cray said: "Big as these seizures were, there is clear evidence to suggest that they were just the tip of a large criminal iceberg.



"Only the defendants themselves will ever know the full extent of the drugs they imported into this country and the money that was generated as a result."



Mr Cray described Bowler as the gang's "number one" and a "senior controlling figure in the criminal group".



Bowler associated with all the principal conspirators, holding regular meetings, dealing with problems and meeting new recruits, the court heard.



Mr Cray said he enjoyed a lifestyle "with many of the trappings of worldly success," including a house in Kingston where £75,000 worth of jewellery was found.



The 14-month undercover investigation found that the drugs were imported into the UK through Harwich ferry port in Essex and taken to a warehouse in Chatham, Kent.



Officers at the port intercepted a shipment of 494lb (224kg), worth more than £750,000 to the gang, on July 16 2008, prompting a major change in tactics by the criminals.



From September 2008, the drugs were shipped to Hull and taken to a warehouse in Leeds before being transported to one of a number of lock-up garages in Kingston, Worcester Park, Epsom and Ashtead, where the skunk cannabis would be unpacked and stored.



Bowler, 40, of St Albans Road, Kingston, Surrey; Peter Moran, 37, of Fulham Palace Road, Fulham, west London; and Mark Kinnimont, 40, of Claremont Road, Surbiton, Surrey, made up the gang's "board of directors", and all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import controlled drugs and conspiracy to launder the proceeds of crime.



Liam Salter, David Couchman and Timothy Sullivan represented the next level of authority.



Salter, 39, of Reeds Rest Lane, Tadworth, Surrey; Couchman, 38, of Sweeney Crescent, Southwark, south London; and Sullivan, 38, of Ash Court, Epsom, Surrey, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply controlled drugs and conspiracy to launder the proceeds of crime.



Bashir, 35, of The Drive, Ilford, Essex, made sure the drug money was included with legitimate cash and laundered through the financial system. He was convicted of laundering the proceeds of crime.



Roger Alexander, 44, of Churchill Close, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, sold much of the imported product, earning £150 to £175 per kilo. He admitted conspiracy to supply controlled goods and conspiracy to launder the proceeds of crime.



Peter Brown, 37, of King Henry's Road, Kingston, was a late entrant into the operation, only joining in September 2008, but was key once the drugs started being imported to Leeds via Hull.



He was witnessed meeting dealer Barrie Burn, 59, of Hinton Road, Bristol. Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply controlled drugs.



Andrew West, 36, of Willowbank Gardens, Tadworth, was a driver for the gang and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder the proceeds of crime.



Another driver, James Hay, 31, of Stonny Croft, Ashtead, who helped to transport drugs and money, was found guilty of possession with intent to supply controlled drugs.







The court heard the drugs were shipped in from Holland at an import price of £2,200 per kilogram.

The gang then sold the cannabis on to regional distributors at a UK wholesale price of £3,400 per kilogram, with 20-50kg being sold at a time.



Mr Cray said regional distributors like Alexander charged £3,550 to £3,575 per kilogram.



Mr Cray said although he was further down the hierarchy, Alexander was still a "prolific drug dealer at a regional level in the High Wycombe area".



He said a "typical deal" would be for Alexander to take 40kg of skunk worth £136,000 and sell it on for a profit of £6,000-£7,000.



The hearing was adjourned to tomorrow when the men will be sentenced.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'