Sweet potato drugs gang jailed for 41 years
An East London organised crime group have been jailed for 41 years for their role in smuggling Class A and B drugs into the UK from Jamaica in deliveries of sweet potatoes.
UPDATE: 22 April 2022
The three men, Kashif Mushtaq , Sarbjit Chumber  and Attiq Ur Rehman  were found guilty at Southwark Crown Court last month [31 March] and sentenced at the same court yesterday.
They received the following sentences: Mushtaq, 17 and a half years; Chumber, 14 years and Rehman, nine and a half years.
Jon Eatwell, lead officer from the NCA’s Anti-Corruption Unit, said: “This investigation has resulted in substantial jail terms for these men who will be denied any criminal gains and face years behind bars.
“Together they ran a sophisticated operation that enabled them to bring drugs into the UK through legitimate services, where every man had his part. Those drugs would have ultimately been sold across London, likely fuelling further crime and violence.
“The NCA’s work to tackle those behind the international class A drugs trade continues.’
31 March 2022
Three members of an East London organised crime group have been found guilty of involvement in a drugs operation which saw Class A and B drugs smuggled into the UK from Jamaica in deliveries of sweet potatoes.
The National Crime Agency began their investigation in October 2018, when officers from the Metropolitan Police, who were working with the NCA, 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.
One of those arrested in connection with the haul was Kashif Mushtaq, 38, from Romford who upon further enquiries and searches of his home and business, was found to have links to Jamaica
This seizure led NCA 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 £3.5 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 Attiq Ur Rehman as he took a handover of the boxes in Kingsbury Road, North London.
Rehman tried to run away before officers caught up with him.
A third man, Sarbjit Chumber, 48, 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.
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.
Today 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.
“Working with partners, we are determined to relentlessly pursue organised crime groups involved in the importation and supply of drugs.”
71 years for cocaine trafficking group led from prison
A convicted drug dealer who continued to run his criminal enterprise from prison has been jailed for 25 years alongside associates who helped him fix deals on the outside and launder the profits.
From left to right: Ali Reza Shokrolahi, Rosemond Agyemang, Dorian Vaciulis, Faisal Guled, Steven Johnson, Darryl Tawiah
Darryl Tawiah, aged 42, of Southwark London, was already serving an 18-year sentence for drugs supply and firearms offences when he was arrested and charged by National Crime Agency officers last year.
Tawiah frequently used phones in prison to contact a Netherlands-based drug supplier, who himself had previously been convicted for importing cocaine after an NCA investigation.
Following his early release from prison, the Dutch drugs trafficker was deported to the Netherlands and became the subject of a separate Dutch investigation.
Conversations captured between the two showed Tawiah was sourcing Class A drugs wholesale and arranging their onward distribution and sale.
Working with people within the UK and the Netherlands, Tawiah’s organised crime group (OCG) is believed to have been behind at least two tonnes of Class A drugs imported into the UK and sold across London and the South East.
In one conversation the Dutch supplier told Tawiah: “I want you to move 50 [kilos] a week, don’t talk to me about one”, to which Tawiah replied, “No problem Bro…now that it is good, everybody is calling…..I need to get more money in…”
Further conversations showed Tawiah talking about buying cocaine at bulk prices and that he had a desire to sell ‘coffee’ when he left prison, which is slang for heroin.
He also asked the supplier if he had ever heard of “2C” because “everybody’s asking for it in the West End, Knightsbridge, Mayfair, Chelsea…”.
2C was a reference to liquid GHB, which has been used in instances of ‘date rape’.
Tawiah controlled a number of people on the outside, one of which was Steven Johnson, 37, of Farlington Place, London.
He took delivery of the drugs on Tawiah’s instructions and distributed them across London.
Rosemond Agyemang, 59, was a courier handling the cash side of the operation, and helped to launder it through bank accounts. She also made various cash payments to the Dutch supplier’s people in the UK.
She was arrested outside Oval station in London in July 2019 and was found to be carrying thousands in cash at the time.
At the time of her arrest she was on her way to meet Dorian Vaciulis, a 34-year-old from Feltham, London, who was working for the Dutch supplier and responsible for collecting both cash and drugs.
He was in regular contact with co-conspirator Ali Reza Shokrolahi.
Shokrolahi, aged 41 and also from London, was operating as a lorry driver for the OCG and was linked to at least 30 kilograms of cocaine seized at the UK border.
Tawiah, Vaciulis, Johnson, Agyemang and other alleged co-conspirators were arrested in March last year and were charged with various offences relating to Class A drugs and money laundering.
As the investigation continued, a further man was identified and arrested for his links to the group.
Faisal Guled, 34, a Dutch national living in Camden, London, worked for the Dutch supplier and was operating a county line selling drugs across London and Northampton.
Today at Wood Green Crown Court, Tawiah, Johnson, Vaciulis and Guled were sentenced collectively to 70 years in prison after pleading guilty following a newton hearing.
Agyemang was given a one year sentence at the same court last year.
Shokrolahi absconded while on bail and was not present at the hearing.
Jason Hulme, Operations Manager at the NCA, said: “This three-year investigation took apart an established criminal enterprise which had imported tonnes of cocaine to the UK, where its trade fuels addiction, violence and exploitation.
“Tawiah operated a network outside that did his dirty work for him, with all taking a slice of the profits.
“Thanks to the diligence of our officers and partners, the Dutch police and Criminal Assets Bureau in Dublin, we secured today’s convictions and hope any would-be drug traffickers are reminded of our continued pursuit of serious and organised criminals.
“One of the men sentenced today remains wanted. We would appeal to anyone who thinks they may have information on the whereabouts of Ali Reza Shokrolahi to contact the NCA directly on 0370 496 7622 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
Human trafficking ringleaders found guilty of car wash exploitation
A couple have been convicted of running a human trafficking network in Bristol – promising people a new life in the UK then forcing them to work without pay.
The National Crime Agency rescued five men who were being kept as modern slaves in a house in Brentry Lane, Bristol, by Maros Tancos, aged 45 and Joanna Gomulska, aged 46.
Tancos recruited vulnerable people from Slovakia, targeting those who were often raised in orphanages or living in camps. He promised them transport to the UK, somewhere to live and food.
He told his victims that they could keep half of their wages each month, whilst the other half would be kept for rent and board.
In reality, victims received no money and earnings were spent by the defendants on online gambling, in casinos, on buying cars or their own living costs.
On arrival in the UK, the couple took their victims’ identity documents and phones, leaving them unable to travel independently or leave.
The victims were required to work for their car wash business in Bristol during the day and at other jobs at night.
Tancos and Gomulska kept all of their bank cards, would take victims to open bank accounts, and applied for loans or credit cards in their names. Between 2010 and 2017, almost £300,000 was transferred from their accounts.
Victims described living with ten people in a three bedroom home, sharing one bathroom and sleeping on dirty mattresses. The couple would lock their victims in the house when they were out, but they told investigators that even if the door was unlocked they felt they could not leave due to the level of control they held over them.
In statements, victims described their time with the defendants as ‘catastrophic’ and said they were humiliated, hit and punished by Tancos. Another described returning to Slovakia when she fell pregnant, with her child being born malnourished and suffering epileptic fits because she had no money to bring back from the UK for food.
Tancos and Gomulska made their victims work under any circumstances. One described an occasion where he broke his arm and had it set in a cast at hospital. They still made him continue to work in the car wash.
The couple were arrested on suspicion of modern slavery and human trafficking offences in July 2017. Both denied their involvement but following a trial spanning almost three months, including evidence from 15 victims, they were convicted by a jury today (4 April) at Bristol Crown Court.
NCA Branch Commander Colin Williams said:
“Tancos and Gomulska treated their victims as possessions, exploiting their hope of a better life for themselves and their families to keep them in a never ending cycle of abuse. They were prisoners. The experiences they shared in court showed how mentally broken the couple left them.
“These people came from impoverished backgrounds to the UK with optimism, but instead had their vulnerability taken advantage of. Whilst they suffered, Tancos and Gomulska spent their victims’ wages on gambling and cars.
“The support from our international partners in Slovakia was pivotal in being able to trace victims who had returned home and meant they could give evidence via video links detailing the couple’s abhorrent behaviour dating back to 2008.
“Tackling human trafficking is one of our highest priorities, and we will continue to work with partners to pursue offenders and protect victims.”
Ruona Iguyovwe, Senior Specialist Prosecutor at the CPS, said:
“This is a truly harrowing case of exploitation spanning nearly a decade, where people were trafficked and subjected to a life of misery to line the pockets of two ruthless individuals.
“Referring to the house as a ‘gate to hell’, one victim’s account shows how they felt trapped, unable to seek help without identity documents, locked in the house and threatened.
“Gaining the victims’ confidence has been fundamental to this case, and a significant amount of work went in to caring for, and engaging with them, throughout the process. I commend every person who testified for their bravery.”
The NCA launched a new campaign recently urging people to think about where they spend their money to avoid inadvertently supporting modern slavery.
Car washes, nail bars, takeaway restaurants and doorstep services, such as builders, driveway or paving installers, cleaners or gardeners, can often be disguising illegal labour practices and the exploitation of workers.
For information on signs to look out for, see nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/ethicalconsumerchoices
If you have concerns about modern slavery at a business or for a person, call the Modern Slavery Helpline anonymously on 08000 121 700.