Drug smugglers jailed for 18 years over cocaine banana plot

Four men have now been sentenced over the scheme to bring 139kg of cocaine into the UK from Ecuador.

Margaret Davis
Wednesday 01 November 2023 15:32 GMT
The four men were caught as they retrieved packages that they believed contained drugs, but had been replaced by the NCA (NCA/PA)
The four men were caught as they retrieved packages that they believed contained drugs, but had been replaced by the NCA (NCA/PA)

Two ringleaders of a plot to smuggle £11 million of cocaine into the UK hidden in a shipment of bananas have each been jailed for 18 years.

Robert Ball, 59, of Hale Barns, Manchester, and Mirgent Shahu, 32, of Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, were jailed at Warwick Crown Court on Wednesday, having been convicted by a jury in May.

They were caught in a sting by the National Crime Agency after 139kg of cocaine was found by Border Force officials hidden in the roof of a shipping container that had come from Ecuador to London Gateway Port in April last year.

Investigators removed the drugs and resealed the container, putting it under surveillance and waiting to see who would claim it.

A few days later Ball, who was working for Albanian drug dealers, asked the shipping line to release the container and had it moved to Coventry.

There he got accomplices Florjan Ibra, 30, from Barking in east London, and Arman Kaviani, 37, from Golders Green, north west London, to climb onto the container using a forklift truck and rip open the top with crowbars, expecting to find the drugs.

Instead all four men were arrested. Ibra was jailed for 13 and a half years and Kaviani to 12 years and nine months at previous hearings.

NCA operations manager David Phillips said: “Ball and Shahu oversaw the nuts and bolts of this conspiracy on behalf of the organised crime group behind it.

“This group enlisted the assistance of Ibra and Kaviani, who they hoped would retrieve the drugs and make their efforts worthwhile.

“Unfortunately for these men, NCA officers were watching their every move before moving in to arrest them.

“Cocaine fuels violence and exploitation, including gang culture and firearm and knife crime in the UK and around the world.

“Removing this consignment from circulation will have been a sizeable blow to this criminal network, preventing them from generating profits that would have been invested in further criminality.”

All four men were charged with one count of conspiracy to evade the prohibition on the importation of a controlled drug, while Kaviani was also charged with possession with intent to supply after crystal meth worth £500,000 was found at his home.

Specialist Prosecutor Caroline Hughes said: “The offenders in this case were involved in a sophisticated criminal operation to import a significant amount of cocaine into the UK.

“The supply of drugs is motivated by greed. It is a lucrative business for those involved.

“It has disastrous consequences for those using drugs, their families and the community: a vast amount of crimes affecting the public are committed by users to pay for their habits.

“We will be pursuing confiscation proceedings against Robert Ball to recover the money he made from his criminality.”

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