Drugs smuggler ordered to pay £2.6m

 

A drugs gang "Mr Big" who smuggled £25 million of cannabis into the UK from Holland in lorry loads of flowers has been ordered to pay £2.6 million.

David Barnes, 42, who is serving a 12-year jail term for plotting to supply cannabis, has six months to pay up or face an extra eight years' imprisonment.

The smuggler, who led a lavish lifestyle funded by importing thousands of kilos of cannabis from Europe, had claimed that he had made just £50,000 net profit from the operation he headed.

Bristol Crown Court heard that between January and April 2009, Barnes and his gang imported 9,647kg (21,268lb) of cannabis with a wholesale value of £26.5 million - and a street value of £100 million.

The prosecution maintained that Barnes had made a minimum net personal profit of £275 per kilo - a total of £2.6 million - which was salted away overseas to Pakistan, Quebec and Dubai.

However, Barnes claimed during the Proceeds of Crime Act hearing that his cut from the operation was just £10 per kilo.

Barnes, from Hungerford, Berkshire, said that he received £90,000 but about half went in expenses and he was left with just £50,000.

Rejecting Barnes's claim, Judge Jamie Tabor QC said: "In relation to Mr Barnes it is agreed that the benefit figure as defined by the Proceeds of Crime Act is £26 million.

"The Crown suggests that Mr Barnes has salted away the profits that he has made from the enterprise.

"I suspect that the profit made was substantially more than that suggested by the prosecution.

"Nevertheless, if the prosecution is correct, Mr Barnes made a minimum net profit of £2,652,925.

"I am quite satisfied that Mr Barnes was the principal mover in this conspiracy in the UK.

"Regrettably he has lied to the court yet again. As I said earlier I believe the prosecution formulation to be overgenerous, however, I am prepared to accept it.

"Mr Barnes' net profit was £2,652,925. At least this figure has been hidden and probably spirited out of the country."

Barnes's co-accused, "first lieutenant" Michael Woodage, 52, from Whitchurch, Hampshire, was ordered to pay £80,000 within six months or face an additional 21 months' imprisonment on top the eight year sentence he is already serving.

The two defendants and six other members of the gang were all jailed in July 2010.

During the trial jurors heard that almost 10 tonnes of skunk cannabis was found at a farm in Wanborough, near Swindon, but detailed records showed that much more had passed through.

The gang had smuggled the cannabis into the UK among shipments of flowers - such as tulips and chrysanthemums - from Holland.

The discovery led police to secure buildings on Poplar Farm, Wanborough, which was leased by Barnes.

Officers found hi-tech security systems, forklift trucks, shrink wrapping and other drug-related equipment.

A further raid at an industrial unit leased by Woodage near Hungerford unearthed equipment linked with a drugs distribution centre.

Detectives said they believed the gang transferred millions of pounds they netted for the drugs out of Britain.

They said cash was taken from Swindon back down the M4 to London, then wired to cash bureaux in Afghanistan, Dubai and Pakistan where the money trail ran cold for police.

Detectives discovered that Barnes made trips to Canada, Dubai and Pakistan in the months leading up to the drugs bust.

The court heard today that Barnes's wife Paula, 43, has no assets and is believed to be abroad on the run from police following a fatal car crash in September 2010.

She was released on bail to appear in court last April to face a charge of causing the death of primary school teacher Diane Wright by dangerous driving but failed to attend.

Detective Sergeant Bob Cooper, from Wiltshire Police, described Barnes's empire as one of the biggest in the UK.

"In my experience I would rate it as one of the biggest drug importation operations in the UK," he said.

"The order for £2.6 million is a fair reflection of the degree of criminality that David Barnes was involved in.

"David Barnes lived a 'cash-lease' lifestyle and as such we didn't find any of the trappings of his lifestyle.

"Our case is that he squirrelled away his money and, even though we cannot find the money, the judge has accepted that it does exist.

"We believe he used corrupt money transfer buries to move his cash to Dubai, Pakistan and Quebec and then onwards, which makes it very difficult to track it down."

Mr Cooper sent a warning to those involved in the drugs trade.

"This case shows that, if we can prove people make money from drug supply - whatever their level - they run the risk of losing the roof over their head, the car they drive and their money in the bank."

PA

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