• Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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Ealing couple jailed for 33 years for smuggling cocaine worth £57m to Australia

Arti Dhir and Kavaljitsinh Raijada were identified by the National Crime Agency (NCA) after Australian Border Force intercepted cocaine in Sydney in May 2021

Arti Dhir (L) and Kavaljitsinh Raijada

By: Eastern Eye

A COUPLE in the UK, whose extradition was sought by India, has been sentenced for 33 years in jail for exporting more than half a tonne of cocaine to Australia.

Arti Dhir, 59, and Kavaljitsinh Raijada, 35, from Hanwell in Ealing, west London, were identified by the National Crime Agency (NCA) after Australian Border Force intercepted cocaine worth £57 million in Sydney in May 2021, the agency said on Monday (29).

Dhir and Raijada denied exporting cocaine to Australia and money laundering.

However, they were convicted of 12 counts of exportation and 18 counts of money laundering by a jury at Southwark Crown Court on Monday.

They were due to be sentenced at the same court on Tuesday (30).

The drugs were sent via a commercial flight from the UK and consisted of six metal toolboxes which, when opened, were found to contain 514 kg of cocaine, the NCA said.

If sold in Australia, where prices are significantly higher than in the UK, the drugs would have fetched up to £57m, the agency said.

In the UK, a kilo of cocaine at wholesale is priced at around £26,000, but in Australia, the same amount sells for £110,000.

Officers traced the consignment to Dhir and Raijada, who had set up a front company called Viefly Freight Services, with the sole purpose of smuggling drugs. Both defendants had been directors of the company at different points since its incorporation in June 2015.

Raijada’s fingerprints were found on the plastic wrapping of the metal toolboxes containing the seized drugs, while receipts for the toolboxes, worth £2,855 were found at the couple’s home.

The NCA said 37 consignments were sent to Australia since June 2019, of which 22 were dummy runs and 15 contained cocaine.

Dhir had been employed by a flight services company at Heathrow from March 2003 until October 2016, while Raijada worked at the same company from March 2014 to December 2016.

NCA investigators believe the couple’s knowledge of airport freight procedures was used to cover their criminal activities.

Dhir and Raijada were arrested at their home in Hanwell on June 21, 2021. Officers seized gold-plated silver bars worth £5,000; they also found £13,000 inside the home and £60,000 in cash in a safety deposit box.

Following further investigations, the pair were arrested again in February 2023.

The drugs were sent via a commercial flight from the UK and consisted of six metal toolboxes which, when opened, were found to contain 514 kg of cocaine

NCA officers found almost £3m in cash hidden in boxes and suitcases at a storage unit in Hanwell, which Raijada had rented in his mother’s name.

Financial inquiries found they had also purchased a flat in Ealing for £800,000 and a Land Rover for £62,000, despite declaring profits of only a few thousand pounds.

Investigations showed that both defendants held cash in bank accounts which far exceeded their declared income.

They had deposited almost £740,000 in cash into 22 different bank accounts since 2019 and were further charged with money laundering.

The NCA said it will now start Proceeds of Crime proceedings against both defendants to strip them of their assets.

NCA senior investigating officer, Piers Phillips, said, “Arti Dhir and Kavaljitsinh Raijada used their insider knowledge of the air freight industry to traffic cocaine worth tens of millions of pounds from the UK to Australia, where they knew they could maximise their revenue.

“They kept their illicit profits in cash at their home and in storage units, as well as purchasing property, gold and silver in an attempt to hide their wealth. These defendants may have thought they were removed from the misery caused by the drug trade, but their greed was fuelling it.”

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