TWO Dutchmen who smuggled vast quantities of cannabis from the Netherlands into the UK have been jailed following a National Crime Agency investigation.
Henrik Ruben, 28, and Dominic Leeman, 30, helped to import more than half a tonne of cannabis in two consignments of grated pizza cheese and salad toppings shipped to two warehouses in Slough, Berkshire.
The drugs, which had an estimated street value of £5m, were intercepted at Dover Docks by Border Force officers on 16 June 2016 and 5 April 2016.
At Maidstone Crown Court, Thursday – Ruben, of Dieren, was jailed for six years after a jury convicted him of conspiring to import drugs.
Leeman, of Arnhem, was also found guilty of the same charge and sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail.
They were part of a wider organised crime group, and operated two units on the Slough Industrial Estate where the cannabis would be unpacked. The cheese would then be repackaged and shipped back to the Netherlands to be used again.
The pair imported the drugs through a company called Bertus Foods, also known as Global Foods, which was set up as a front for drug smuggling. Ruben was in charge of making necessary travel arrangements, and Leeman was key to organising the food ‘carousel’ of sending produce back and forth.
The duo used encrypted phones to communicate, but NCA investigators were able to access messages between them. The investigation revealed the pair discussed arrangements for transportation of the cannabis to clients.
In one text, the damning question “do I have to put the old cheese in those boxes the product is delivered in?” was exchanged between the organised crime group.
Ruben’s phone had photos of herbal cannabis and cannabis resin on it, as well as pictures of a forklift being used to load and unload pallets of white boxes from an HGV.
Martin Grace, NCA Branch Commander said: “This is a significant disruption of an organised crime network who were intent on bringing illegal drugs into the UK.
“The pair thought they could fool us by disguising cannabis in food shipments and giving fabricated stories to border officials. But we are ready and have tools in place to disrupt drug supply and distribution.
“The cannabis had a street value of more than £5million, which no doubt would have funded further criminality on our streets. We take all importations of illegal drugs seriously. Drug smugglers perpetuate serious violence which spreads throughout supply chains and puts innocent members of the public at risk.
“Today’s sentencing marks the end of a long investigation, in which we worked closely with Border Force officers. We will continue to work with Border Force to disrupt criminals and protect the UK from harm.”
Nick Drinkal, Director of Border Force South East and Europe, said: “Border Force’s seizures took a substantial quantity of cannabis off the streets and out of the hands of those who seek to profit from illegal drugs.
“Border Force will continue to work with our law enforcement partners, both at home and abroad, to tackle drug smuggling and put the criminals responsible for these crimes behind bars.”