In a plan described as ‘beautiful in its simplicity’, a suitcase of drugs would be taken off a British Airways flight from Rio de Janeiro at 1pm each Monday and placed on the wrong carousel at Heathrow Airport.
The baggage handler would put the case at domestic arrivals, so it would not need to go through custom checks.
The suitcase – packed with blocks of cocaine – would then be picked up by a drug mule flying into Heathrow from UK cities such as Aberdeen so they could take it through a lower level of security.
Kingston Crown Court heard the smuggling operation had ‘worked beautifully’ until a security officer noticed a suspiciously heavy Samsonite suitcase that may have been tampered with.
He found it contained 29 blocks of cocaine, weighing a total of 29kg, with a purity of up to 77 per cent.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) then began a year-long investigation, intercepting more than 100kg of cocaine with a street value of more than £9 million (Rs 385 million), as well as a bag of cannabis, that was flown into Britain in just six trips.
Yesterday alleged smugglers Preetam Mungrah, 43 and from Mauritius, and Wilfred Owusu, 30, went on trial accused of organising couriers to pick up the drugs at Heathrow.
Timothy Probert-Wood, prosecuting, said:
The existence of this conspiracy came to the attention of the National Crime Agency and as such an operation, with a period of observation, was mounted. Inevitably when dealing with a conspiracy like this, there must have been incidents when the consignments got through and the NCA didn’t manage to get them.
The baggage handler at the centre of the conspiracy, Joysen Jhurry, another Mauritian, pleaded guilty to his involvement at an earlier hearing. Jurors heard yesterday he had always been on hand to do the carousel swap when the Brazil flight landed, even if he was not scheduled to be working.
Describing the plot, Mr Probert-Wood said:
It is in fact beautiful in its simplicity. It was simple method known to the authorities and “rip on, rip off”. Jhurry would search for and find the bags containing the drugs and remove it from where these bags were. They were meant to go on the international arrivals carousel. Bags from international flights would go through customs for examination and Border Force security. People removing a bag from a domestic flight means there is no customs, no security for people arriving from, say, Aberdeen. Far less rigorous than that for a Rio flight.
Investigators believe the drugs were loaded on to flights in Rio airside, after cases had gone through airport security checks.
It is thought offenders in Brazil would then tell the British gang what the bag looked like. Mr Probert-Wood said:
It worked beautifully and we only know about this conspiracy when it went wrong, when a bag was intercepted.
The court was told Owusu organised couriers, while Mungrah, who was in a relationship with Jhurry’s sister, was the Terminal 5 baggage handler’s right-hand man.
Phone records show Mungrah spoke with Jhurry before consignments came into the UK, it was alleged. The jurors were also shown call records between Mungrah and other alleged members of the conspiracy.
Mungrah, of Croydon, South London, and Owusu, of Hackney, East London, both deny two counts of conspiracy to contravene the customs and excise act. The trial continues.