• Wednesday, April 17, 2024

News

Two men jailed for smuggling illegal drugs worth £29 million

Anand Tripathi, 61, and Varun Bhardwaj, 39, were also convicted of evading import duty payable on cigarettes, hidden alongside biscuits from India

Hid the drugs in crates of fruits and vegetables

By: Eastern Eye

TWO men have been sentenced to a total of 34 years’ imprisonment after a London trial found them guilty of smuggling drugs hidden among farm produce from Africa and South America.

Anand Tripathi, 61, and Varun Bhardwaj, 39, were also convicted of evading import duty payable on cigarettes, hidden alongside biscuits from Chennai, Bombay Mix snacks from Mumbai and coconut fibre used to manufacture doormats from Sri Lanka.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said the scheme involved the pair using their freight company as a cover to clear shipping containers carrying drugs and cigarettes and diverting them from their intended destination to a warehouse they controlled. These shipments were then offloaded by organised crime groups.

“These two men played vital roles in trying to flood UK streets with huge quantities of illegal drugs,” said Richard Partridge from the CPS, following the sentencing at Isleworth crown court in west London last week.

“This conspiracy was only made possible by Anand Tripathi’s experience in import and customs clearance and Varun Bhardwaj’s willingness to assume day-to-day management of their operation.

“There were clearly others involved in the scheme who haven’t yet been identified, but this successful operation and their substantial sentences serve as a warning that authorities in the UK work together to disrupt and prosecute smugglers,” he said.

Both men were convicted in November after a 71-day trial, where the jury heard that in total, the men imported 272.86kg of cocaine and 2,503.36kg of cannabis across four shipments between September 2021 and November 2022.

One shipment contained just over two tonnes of cannabis hidden in yams from Ghana. Another, containing 49kg of cocaine, was concealed with oranges from South Africa.

The drugs had an estimated street value of £28.9 million, but were all seized before they could be sold; the narcotics were later destroyed by the police.

Anand Tripathi and Varun Bharadwaj

“The amount seized over a 13-month period goes to show the significant involvement these individuals had in bringing commercial amounts of drugs into the UK,” said detective chief Inspector (DCI) Paul Fisher of the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit, behind the investigation.

When police searched Bhardwaj’s home in Hounslow, west London, they found a one-kg packet of cannabis in a cupboard under the stairs valued at £10,000.

He claimed it had fallen out of a shipment while it was being unloaded and he was “keeping it as evidence”.

Bhardwaj was last Friday (15) sentenced to 19 years in prison for importing cocaine and cannabis and evading duty payable on cigarettes and also for the possession of cannabis and failing to disclose a PIN number to a mobile phone.

His accomplice, Tripathi, was sentenced on similar charges for 15 years.

Both were also sentenced for not paying £9,774,220 in import duties and VAT on 18.6 million cigarettes they smuggled, separate from the drug imports.

The drugs and cigarettes were seized on different dates at English ports including Portsmouth, Felixstowe and London Gateway. The police investigation uncovered previous shipments which had been seized by UK Border Force during routine searches of containers at the docks. The trial was told that by setting up shell companies, Tripathi and Bhardwaj tried to avoid police detection until a bungled delivery to Somerset.

In April 2022, the pair failed to divert one container which instead went to a farm in Somerset. The farmer found plastic-covered blocks of cocaine with a street value of £15 mn hidden among animal feed. He was not sure what they were, but told police he had seen “similar packages on films and TVprogrammes which were drugs”.

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