A Black Country, England businessman and his uncle yesterday started jail sentences totalling 14 years after police smashed a bid to smuggle almost £1.7 million (TT$17 million) worth of cocaine from Trinidad and Tobago into the United Kingdom.
The drugs were hidden in a consignment of 20,000 bottles of soft drink delivered to Ice Age Supplies, the import export business of Lionel Malinga based at an industrial unit in Church Road, Darlaston in England.
The 33-year-old father of three, from Windsor Road, West Bromwich, set up the firm to bring cars and foodstuffs into the country but turned to crime when the trade dried up, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard yesterday.
The drugs were smuggled by sea from Trinidad and Tobago to Felixstowe where they were intercepted by customs and police officers.
They found 11 packages of cocaine weighing almost nine kilogrammes with a wholesale value of £360,000 that would have fetched up to £1.68 million at street sale prices, the court was told.
The haul was removed from its hiding place under covers stuck to the bottom of the shipping container and replaced with a harmless substitute before the cargo was collected from the docks and taken to the Ice Age Supplies depot. Investigators followed the lorry to Darlaston where Zimbabwe-born Malinga, and his uncle, former Birmingham mental health nurse Terrence Miti, 40, were secretly filmed taking nine hours to empty the 1,000 cases of drink bottles from the container before raising it onto wooden chocks to remove the packages which they believed still held drugs.
Miti hid the contraband in a bin moments before the industrial unit was raided by officers from the Serious Organised Crime Agency who had been monitoring the two men's conversation via a bug concealed in the shipping container in the early hours of December 2.
Malinga admitted conspiracy to smuggle cocaine and was jailed for eight years while Miti from Manchester received a six-year sentence after being convicted by a jury of knowingly being concerned in the illegal importation of the drugs.
Tests revealed that the shipment of cocaine had been "cut" with a substance banned in this country because it can cause bladder cancer.
It was also revealed that another shipment of cocaine and cannabis from the same Caribbean source had been intercepted by customs at Tilbury docks in July last year.
Malinga said he rejected an offer to get involved with that shipment but decided to help smuggle the second batch because his legitimate business had stopped making money in the intervening period.