Record cocaine haul worth £300m found in Hampshire

SEARCHED The yacht in Southampton docks
SEARCHED The yacht in Southampton docks
Shelly Bertram outside court

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THE largest ever seizure of cocaine in the UK has lead to the arrest of six international drug gang members.

A record 1.2 tonne haul - which is 90 per cent pure - was found hidden inside a £1m luxury yacht Louise at Southampton docks after being transported from South America.

Now work by The UK Border Agency and Dutch police has led to the arrest of six members of the criminal gang believed to be responsible for the haul - the biggest ever seizure of class A drugs in the UK.

The drugs have an estimated street value of £300m.

Dutch National Crime Squad arrested six men in early morning raids yesterday recovering €100,000, two Harley Davidson motorcycles, two guns, a silencer and class B drug ecstasy.

The six men were arrested in The Netherlands. They include two 44 year olds arrested in Amsterdam, a 60-year-old arrested in Meppel, a 34-year-old and a 32-year-old arrested in Heusden, a 27-year-old arrested in Waalwijk.

David Armond, deputy director for the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), said: ‘ This is a hugely significant seizure for Europe. More widely, this operation clearly demonstrates the power of international law enforcement collaboration against narcotics, which the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre - Narcotics is so instrumental in driving forward.’

UK Border Agency officers first targeted the pleasure cruiser Louise as it was transported to Southampton from the British Virgin Islands in a cargo ship.

Specially trained officers spent six days combing the yacht in search of the drugs. They were found hidden deep beneath the bathing platform of the boat.

The seizure was part of the joint Operation Parsons with Dutch police, The Serious Organised Crime Agency and French Customs Investigation Service.

Immigration minister Damian Green said: ‘This was a significant drugs seizure which was made possible by the cooperation of our international partners. UK Border Agency staff have shown vigilance, dedication and determination to uncover this shipment.

‘Our efforts have helped bring an international crime gang to book and the message is clear; we will investigate and prosecute anyone who tries to smuggle banned substances through the UK border.

‘By keeping the border secure we play a key role in stopping drugs entering the UK and in reducing the harm they do to our communities. We aim to protect society from the violence and corruption that always accompanies the trade in illegal goods.’

Wilbert Paulissen , head of the Dutch National Crime Squad, said: ‘The arrest of the six members of an organised crime group and seizure of 1.2 tonnes of high quality cocaine are the results of Operation Parsons carried out by the Dutch National Crime Squad under authority of the Dutch National Public Prosecutors Office.

‘This operation was successful because of persistence and patience, but above all because of excellent cooperation with other law enforcement agencies such as the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre and the UK Border Agency. The operation must be seen as a victorious part of a campaign in the fight against organized crime.’

Gert Rip , public prosecutor for the National Prosecutor’s Office in The Netherlands, said: ‘About 40 per cent of all cocaine brought into Europe is trafficked using smuggling routes from the Caribbean. Venezuela is often used as a supply line of cocaine for the European market.

‘The use of cocaine carries unacceptable risks to public health. Criminal enterprises are not only responsible for this kind of damage, but are also involved in money laundering practices.

‘Combating the international cocaine trade has high priority in the Netherlands. The success in doing so can for a large part be contributed to international cooperation between the various law enforcement agencies. Tackling these trans-national crimes can be done in no other way that on an international level. The seizure of 1,200 kg of cocaine and the subsequent arrest of the suspects is a good example of this cooperation.’