The United Kingdom’s [UK] National Crime Agency [NCA] is reporting that three members of an East London organised crime group have been found guilty of involvement in a drugs operation that saw ganja and cocaine smuggled into the UK from Jamaica in deliveries of sweet potatoes.
The three men are 38-year-old Kashif Mushtaq, Attiq Ur Rehman, and 48-year-old Sarbjit Chumber.
The NCA said it began its investigation in October 2018, when officers from the Metropolitan Police, who were working with the Agency, seized nearly 35 kilos of cannabis from a car in Hackney. The drugs were wrapped in sealed packages within cardboard boxes used for transporting sweet potatoes.
Mushtaq, from Romford, was arrested in connection with the haul and, upon further enquiries and searches of his home and business, was found to have links to Jamaica.
According to a statement from the NCA, this seizure led its investigators to a second shipment three months later in January 2019 when 94 packages containing cocaine and cannabis were found in another load of sweet potatoes on a flight that had arrived at Gatwick airport from Kingston, Jamaica.
The drugs collectively weighed 85.5 kilos and would have been worth more than GBP3.5 million if sold on the streets of the UK.
NCA teams tracked the second load of drugs to an industrial estate in Hayes, where the boxes were seen being sorted.
Officers arrested Rehman as he took a handover of the boxes in Kingsbury Road, North London. Ur Rehman tried to run away before officers caught up with him.
Chumber, from Hounslow, who was suspected of being involved in the exchange and was in phone contact with the men, was arrested minutes later at Spitalfields Market.
According to the NCA, analysis of messages between the men led back to Mushtaq, who following his arrest in 2018, had been released under investigation.
The NCA suspected Mushtaq also played a leading role in the operation despite being in Pakistan at the time that the drugs were seized. He was subsequently arrested after returning to the UK.
On Thursday, at Southwark Crown Court, Mushtaq, Chumber, and Ur Rehman were found guilty of drug smuggling offences in relation to the January 2019 shipment. A fourth man was cleared.
Mushtaq and two other men were found not guilty of involvement in the October 2018 seizure.
Jon Eatwell lead officer from the NCA’s Anti-Corruption Unit, said: “This crime group were well organised and established a system that enabled them to smuggle drugs into the UK through legitimate services, where every man had his role in the conspiracy.
“The drugs they trafficked would have been sold across London and could have fuelled further crime and violence”.