Two west London taxi drivers have been convicted of smuggling class B drugs between London and Plymouth on behalf of a Vietnamese "businessman".
Sunder Ahuja, a 47-year-old taxi driver from Baird Avenue, Southall, was hired by Tam Tran, of no fixed abode, to make 48 round trips to a Plymouth garage over 18 months.
Appearing at Plymouth Crown Court, Ahuja claimed he thought Tran was a "legitimate businessman" and didn't suspect he was actually carrying large bags of cannabis.
Last Tuesday (November 14), a jury unanimously convicted Ahuja and 48-year-old Abdul Shirzad of Redwood Estate, Hounslow, of conspiracy to supply a class B drug between October 31 2015 and June 22 2017, reports the Plymouth Herald.
Another courier, Amrik Lamba, of Park Close Avenue, West Drayton, had already pleaded guilty after police found the Vietnamese man in the back of his car with £52,600 in cash at his feet.
Prosecutor Jason Beale told the court that Tran had planned to use the cash to buy 10kgs of cannabis in a black and tartan holdall seized from a vehicle driven by Efford resident Patrick Stewart, aged 37.
The arrest led police to raid the Plymouth address of 30-year-old Nicholas Doyle and his lock up and seize an additional 7kg of cannabis and a large quantity of cash.
Ahuja told the court he met Tam Tran while working for Hounslow-based minicab firm Aircall, when the businessman had asked for his number so he could call him about a "big job".
Tran then called him directly to arrange his first trip to Plymouth in October 2015.
Ahuja said that if he arranged the job privately, he would not need to give the usual 20% of the fare to Aircall.
Ahuja said he picked up the businessman from an address in Hayes about a week later and drove him to Plymouth – the first of what he admitted was 48 near-identical trips involving one or two black holdalls.
Abdul Shirzad told the jury he made five journeys and thought the bags just contained mobile phone accessories from China.
The 48-year-old said he was paid £350 to make round-trips to the city – again only staying minutes before returning to London.
Shirzad gave evidence through an interpreter and revealed he was from Afghanistan and had lived in the UK for almost 10 years.
Shirzad told the jury that although he now works for Uber, three years ago he worked for the same taxi company, called Sunshine, with Amrik Lamba.
He said the businessman – who he knew as "Boy" – contacted him at a wedding party, asking if he could “do a job”.
“I was told it was a long job,” he told the jury. “I would go to a house but they didn't give me more details.”
The jury heard how on May 4 this year, Shirzad met "Boy" at the Asda car park in Hayes and he agreed to drive to Plymouth and back for £350.
Tran then got into the back of the taxi with an “average size” suitcase and the pair drove to Plymouth - the first trip of five over the coming month.
Asked what would happened when they arrived in the city, Shirzad said they would reverse up to a garage, and “a person” would come out and “take the bag out”.
Asked whether he ever had conversations with Tran, he said: “[On the] second occasion or third journey I asked ‘What business was he doing?’
“He did reply to say he was bringing telephone accessories and equipment from China and again that was my understanding of the conversation as much as I tried to understand him.”
When he was asked if he had not noticed the strong smell of cannabis coming from the bag, Shirzad replied: “No, personally I never.”
Both Abdul Shirzad and Sunder Ahuja were granted conditional bail pending sentencing.
Amrik Lamba, Nicholas Doyle, Peter Stewart, Tam Tran and a 30-year-old man named Paul Marr of Connaught Avenue, Mutley, had already pleaded guilty to the offence.
The men were granted conditional bail pending the sentencing hearing at the court on January 15 2018.
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