Dutch smugglers who used cheese to disguise £5 million of cannabis have been jailed.
Henrik Ruben, 28, and Dominic Leeman, 30, helped to import over half a tonne of cannabis into Britain amid two consignments of grated pizza cheese and salad toppings.
The pair were part of a gang using two units on the Slough Industrial Estate, Berks, where the cannabis would be unpacked behind the doors of a fake food business.
The cheese would then be repackaged and shipped back to Holland to be used again.
The duo imported the drugs through a company called Bertus Foods, also known as Global Foods, which was set up as a front for the drug smuggling operation.
Ruben was in charge of making travel arrangements, while Leeman organised the food ‘”carousel” sending produce back and forth.
National Crime Agency (NCA)
They used encrypted phones to communicate, but investigators from the National Crime Agency (NCA) – Britain’s answer to the FBI – were able to access messages between them.
In one text, the damning question “do I have to put the old cheese in those boxes the product is delivered in?” was exchanged between the gang.
Ruben’s phone had photos of herbal cannabis and cannabis resin on it, as well as pictures of a forklift being used to load and unload pallets of white boxes from an HGV.
Border officers discovered the drugs at The Port of Dover in April and June 2016.
Ruben, of Dieren in The Netherlands, was jailed for six years today at Maidstone Crown Court after a jury convicted him of conspiring to import drugs.
Leeman, of Arnhem, also in The Netherlands, was also found guilty of the same charge and sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail.
Martin Grace, Branch Commander at the NCA, said: “This is a significant disruption of an organised crime network who were intent on bringing illegal drugs into the UK.
“The pair thought they could fool us by disguising cannabis in food shipments and giving fabricated stories to border officials.
“But we are ready and have tools in place to disrupt drug supply and distribution.
“The cannabis had a street value of more than £5 million, which no doubt would have funded further criminality on our streets.
“We take all importations of illegal drugs seriously. Drug smugglers perpetuate serious violence which spreads throughout supply chains and puts innocent members of the public at risk.
“Today’s sentencing marks the end of a long investigation, in which we worked closely with Border Force officers. We will continue to work with Border Force to disrupt criminals and protect the UK from harm.”
Nick Drinkal, Director of Border Force South East and Europe, added: “Border Force’s seizures took a substantial quantity of cannabis off the streets and out of the hands of those who seek to profit from illegal drugs.
“Border Force will continue to work with our law enforcement partners, both at home and abroad, to tackle drug smuggling and put the criminals responsible for these crimes behind bars.”