Taxi drivers from west London used as drugs couriers by a Vietnamese businessman have been jailed for their role in a £9.1 million pound drug smuggling operation.
Tam Tran, a Vietnamese businessman of no fixed abode and who refused to give his age to the court, transported nearly a metric tonne of cannabis to Plymouth, in the south west.
Tran made 89 trips to the Devon town, hiring west Londoners Sunder Ahuja, Abdul Shirzad and Amrik Lamba to drive him there and back, as reported the Plymouth Herald .
Ahuja and Redwood Estate, Hounslow resident Abdul Shirzad, both 48, had pleaded not guilty of conspiracy to supply a Class B drug but were convicted at Plymouth Crown Court in November.
They were jailed for six years, while 41-year-old Amrik Lamba or Park Close Avenue, West Drayton was jailed for two years and four months, at a sentencing hearing on Monday (February 26).
Lamba, who made 38 trips with Tran to smuggle cannabis to Plymouth, has two disabled children, at least one of whom will have to go in to care during his prison stint.
His defence lawyer Nick Hewin, said: "This is undoubtedly involvement through naivety to make life more bearable for a family struggling on so many levels.”
Police in Plymouth caught up with the drug smugglers when a Ford Galaxy driven by Lamba was stopped in Efford after Tran had handed over 9.8kg of cannabis to Plymouth ring leader Nicholas Doyle.
Police found £52,600 in cash at Tran's feet and large bags of cannabis in a Vauxhall Zafira driven by Peter Stewart.
The court heard that Stewart, aged 40 of Arun Close, Efford told police there was "s***loads" of cannabis in the car.
Multiplying the number of trips by the 10kg seized, prosecutor Ed Bailey argued that would mean roughly 910kg of cannabis was transported by the men, with a street value of around £9.1 million.
Tran, who had been living in rented accommodation in Paddington according to his lawyer, was jailed for six years while Dolye, of of Mersey Close, Efford was given a five year and six month sentence.
Stewart was jailed for two years and four months, while 30-year-old accomplice Paul Marr, of Connaught Avenue, Mutley was given a 15-month jail sentence suspended for two years.
Marr will also have to carry out 200 hours unpaid work and pay £1,000 prosecution costs.
Judge Ian Lawrie said drivers Ahuja, Lamba and Shirzad "chose money over the fact they were participants in a serious crime".
“Their clear good qualities and responsibilities did not inhibit their offending.
"These are men with children and responsibilities as parents and they therefore should have known better than involve themselves in a drug supply arrangement whereby drugs and all their attendant misery were being shipped to Plymouth.”
Ahuja, a married father of three, had told the trial he grew up as a Sikh in Muslim Afghanistan.
He added that he was kidnapped by Muslims in his 20s and his own father was forced to pay a ransom for his release. He sought political asylum in Britain in 1995.
His barrister Andrew Lloyd-Eley, submitted 22 pages of character references to the sentencing hearing and called two live witnesses, including his 17-year-old daughter, to speak on the defendant’s behalf.
He added: “He is a man who has dedicated himself to helping others almost his entire life.”
Mr Lloyd-Eley said he had “turned his back” on Tran and refused to do any more trips.
Francesca Whebell, representing Shirzad, who made five drugs runs, said he “never questioned” Tran about his long trips.
She added he too had fled Afghanistan with the aim of building a better life for his family.
Miss Whebell said Shirzad was the carer for a baby and an older child because his wife was suffering from post natal depression.
The barrister added that he also volunteered to help others.
Judge Lawrie ordered that £64,460 seized and disclaimed by the defendants will be donated to local charities.
He thanked the officers for their “thorough investigation”.
The officer in charge of the investigation, Operation Halo, said after the case showed that jail was the ultimate destination for most drug traffickers.
Det Sgt Jason Kelly said that the prison sentences handed out to six of the defendants showed that those caught up in large-scale drug supply faced custody, whatever part they played.
He added: “It is only a matter of time before most people are caught and more likely than not you are going to get a prison sentence.
“This was a large scale conspiracy. There may be a lot of cash involved but if you get a prison sentence, it is difficult to buy that time back.
“I think this sentence sends a message in that anyone who contemplates getting involved in a conspiracy of that sizes faces at least two years in custody.
“Police get comments that we are wasting their time looking at a Class B drug but we see with organised crime gangs when this amount of money is involved is that there is not a single strand of criminality.
“In this case Tran has been brought to this country illegally and we know as a force that such people are housed in poor conditions.”
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