THE owner of a Wigan cold storage business took delivery of a consignment from South America which had been shipped with cocaine potentially worth £140m, a court heard.
The drugs, concealed in 16 black holdalls on top of a delivery of frozen beef from Argentina, were found by chance during a check because of an e-coli scare when the container arrived at Tilbury Docks.
The cocaine, which was in 400 compressed blocks with the logo “Burro” – Spanish for donkey – on the side, was removed after the find by UK Border Agency officers and a vet, and replaced with dummy packages of bricks.
A jury at Liverpool Crown Court heard that the load was delivered as planned by the conspirators behind the importation to Wigan (Cold) Storage Ltd but unknown to them the drugs had been substituted and a video camera and audio equipment had been installed and it was loaded onto a lorry driven by an under-cover policeman.
Footage showing the moment the container was opened at the business, of which Liam Dooney was the managing director, was shown to the jury.
On seeing the holdalls on top of the cartons of beef Dooney said: “These are sample bags” but one of his employees was heard to say “bags of drugs” while another worker just said “f****** hell.”
“Liam Dooney knew that and went straight to work getting the cocaine out of the load,” alleged William Baker, prosecuting. The holdalls were put in a container and the cartons of meat were moved to a storage area and Dooney allegedly tried to ring a co-conspirator to say the drugs had arrived.
The delivery to the premises in Miry Lane took place on the morning of Friday, May 10 this year and the next morning Merseyside man James Mossman arrived at the yard, which was not usually open at the weekend.
Dooney put two of the holdalls, which had each contained 25 kilos of cocaine, in Mossman’s van and he drove off. But shortly afterwards he stopped and after opening the bags and finding they contained bricks he abandoned them in Merton Road, Wigan.
A nearby resident found them and alerted the police and Dooney was arrested later that date – after having travelled to Wembley and watching Wigan beat Manchester City in the FA Cup final, said Mr Baker.
Knowing he was wanted he approached British Transport Officers at Euston Station and was arrested. When interviewed he made no comment but submitted a prepared statement denying being involved with drugs.
He said that a customer had said he might have around 20 containers to store and initially there would be two and there would be samples readily distinguishable from the main load which a courier would collect.
He said he saw the holdalls and presumed they were the sample bags of meat and was not suspicious and had them stored. The next day a courier arrived and took two of them.
Dooney, 41, of Wakefield Crescent, Standish, denies conspiring to smuggle the cocaine between January 1 and May 17 this year and conspiring to supply it.
Mr Baker told the court that the consignment had been arranged from a meat distribution company by an unknown man using the false name of Malcolm Tops from Masterfoods using a disused office address in Manchester.
Mr Tops was insistent that the chuck and blade beef came from Argentina, rather than Brazil or Europe where it was cheaper, claiming it was because of the horse meat scandal and also specified that the ship, the Maersk Lebu, that should be used.
A total of £48,000 was paid for the shipment and Mr Tops also unusually asked for photographs to be sent showing the container and its number. When it was loaded it was packed to the ceiling with cartons of beef but on arrival it was found that some had been removed and the holdalls added, said Mr Baker.
He told the jury that the drugs had a wholesale value of £19.5m but after being diluted it had a potential street value at 10% purity of £140m.
It would have cost £800,000 in Argentina so there would have been “a massive profit,” he claimed.
The court has heard that Mossman, 37, of Delaware Crescent, Kirkby, has pleaded guilty to his involvement.
l The case continues