Two Indian men guilty of smuggling drugs concealed among farm produce in UK from Africa and South America given 34-year prison sentence.
Two men of Indian descent have been given a combined 34-year prison sentence in the UK for smuggling drugs. A trial in London determined that Anand Tripathi, aged 61, and Varun Bhardwaj, aged 39, were guilty of smuggling drugs concealed among farm produce from Africa and South America.
They were also found guilty of evading import duties on cigarettes hidden alongside biscuits from Chennai, Bombay Mix snacks from Mumbai, and coconut fiber used for making doormats from Sri Lanka.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the UK stated that the scheme involved the duo using their freight company to clear shipping containers carrying drugs and cigarettes. They diverted these shipments from their intended destination to a warehouse they controlled, where organized crime groups then unloaded the illicit goods.
Richard Partridge from the CPS highlighted the crucial roles played by these men in attempting to flood UK streets with large quantities of illegal drugs. He mentioned that Anand Tripathi’s expertise in importation and customs clearance, coupled with Varun Bhardwaj’s day-to-day management, made the conspiracy possible.
The pair was convicted in November after a 71-day trial. The jury heard that they imported 272.86 kilograms of cocaine and 2,503.36 kilograms of cannabis in four shipments between September 2021 and November 2022.
One shipment included just over two tonnes of cannabis hidden among yams from Ghana, and another with 49 kilograms of cocaine concealed with oranges from South Africa. The estimated street value of the drugs was GBP 28.9 million, but the police seized them before they could be sold, later destroying them.
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Fisher, part of the South West Regional Organized Crime Unit, emphasized the significant involvement of these individuals in bringing commercial amounts of drugs into the UK. The collaborative effort with partner agencies led to dismantling the organized crime network and eradicating vast quantities of smuggling drugs intended for the streets.
When the police searched Bhardwaj’s home in Hounslow, west London, they found a one-kilogram packet of cannabis valued at GBP 10,000. Bhardwaj claimed it fell out of a shipment and he kept it as evidence.
Bhardwaj was sentenced to 19 years in prison for importing cocaine and cannabis, evading duties on cigarettes, possessing cannabis, and failing to disclose a PIN number to a mobile phone. Tripathi, his accomplice, received a 15-year sentence on similar charges.
Both were also sentenced for not paying GBP 9,774,220 in import duties and VAT on 18.6 million cigarettes they smuggled, separate from the drug imports. The police investigation revealed previous shipments seized by the UK Border Force during routine searches of containers at docks.
The trial disclosed that Tripathi and Bhardwaj, by setting up shell companies, attempted to keep a distance from the police and avoid detection until a failed delivery to Somerset, southwest England. In April 2022, they couldn’t divert a container smuggling drugs, which ended up at a farm in Somerset. The farmer discovered plastic-covered cocaine blocks with a street value of GBP 15 million hidden among animal feed from Colombia. The farmer, having seen similar packages on films and TV programs, alerted the police.