Friday 26 February 2021 4:15 pm

Drug traffickers jailed for smuggling $32m cocaine haul in yams

Staff writer

Two men were sentenced to 36 years combined in prison today for their attempt to smuggle cocaine worth £32m into the UK in 2016.

A National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation found that Juan David Perea Lopez, 26, of New Cross, London, and Bashar Fares Al-Safee, 31, from North Kensington, London, arranged to import 400kg of cocaine hidden in a shipment of yams from Costa Rica.

On 4 June 2016 NCA and Border Force officers examined a refrigerated container that had been shipped from Costa Rica to a port in Essex, due to be delivered to an industrial estate in North West London.

The container held boxes of yams, but the officers discovered many boxes had false bottoms that were being used to conceal compressed blocks of cocaine powder.

Read more: Dutch customs seize largest-ever heroin haul hidden in Himalayan salt containers

The drugs were found to be 61-68 per cent pure, and had been adulterated with Levamisole. Levamisole is typically used to de-worm livestock, but drug suppliers commonly add it to cocaine to increase volume and profits.

NCA officers arrested Lopez and Al-Safee after they had unloaded the containers. Both men were charged with ne count of conspiracy to import class A drugs, and one count of conspiracy to supply class A drugs.

The men were sentenced today at Southwark Crown Court, with Al-Safee sentenced to 21 years in prison, and Lopez to 15 years, and were found guilty yesterday following a seven-week trial.

The NCA investigation found Lopez had leased the industrial unit where the goods were delivered by pretending to work as an assistant to a Saudi Arabian Sheikh who needed the space to store high value cars.

Al-Safee had high-jacked the identity of a real fruit import business and set up false e-mail addresses and a virtual office.

Read more: Will London’s budding cannabis market turn the EU green with envy?

The company that sent the yams was investigated by Costa Rican authorities, resulting in the arrest of one of the directors and a seizure of one tonne of cocaine from a fruit packing plant.

Regional Head of Investigations at the NCA, Jacque Beer, said: “This seizure and the investigation that followed has kept a huge quantity of cocaine off UK streets, and brought traffickers to account in the UK and Central America.”

“Working with partners like Border Force and law enforcement colleagues around the world, the NCA is determined to protect the public from the impact of class A drug trafficking, and to pursue those behind it,” he added.