An international drugs gang – including two soldiers – who smuggled £1.7 million of cocaine into the UK by hiding it in the wings of a plane were jailed yesterday for a total of 38 years.
The six men, including an Iraq war veteran and an ex-paratrooper, trafficked the class-A drugs from the Netherlands and France using a £31,000 light aircraft.
A court heard the gang spent six months learning to fly the plane before loading it with £1.7 million worth of drugs.
But the gang were caught when they touched down at an airstrip in Corby, Northants., on June 26 last year and customs officers found 5kg of cocaine stashed in one of the wing panels.
Adel Chouhaib, 33, Abdelilah Hilali, 34, former soldier Christopher McGlone, 27, and his brother James McGlone, 30, Wayne Burgess, 36, and ex-paratrooper Richard Murray, 48, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import Class A drugs and conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.
Yesterday the gang were jailed at Northampton Crown Court for a total of 38 years.
Ringleader Chouhaib, from Corby, was caged for ten years for conspiracy to smuggle and 18 months for conspiracy to supply cannabis. Both sentences will run consecutively.
Hilali, from London, was jailed for eight years, while Christopher McGlone and his brother James, both from Corby, were sentenced to five and six years respectively.
Burgess, also from Corby, who flew the plane, was sentenced to four years’ while Murray was jailed for four years.
After the case Detective Inspector Greg Maides, senior investigating officer from EMSOU-SOC (East Midlands Special Operations Unit – Serious Organised Crime Team) said: “This was a hugely complex operation involving a number of different law enforcement agencies based both here and abroad.
“The criminal enterprise was highly planned, with preparation starting as early as 2010 when Mr Burgess began to train as a pilot.
“The drugs were destined for Northamptonshire and the Midlands and had they not been intercepted, they would have had a serious impact on the communities living and working there.”
The court heard that in September 2010 Burgess began training at the Nene Valley Microlights Centre and qualified as a pilot six months later.
James Thomas, prosecuting, said: “This was an organised criminal conspiracy. At the heart of the conspiracy was Adel Chouhaib, for recruiting Burgess and training him to fly the plane.
“Burgess, recruited by Adel Chouhaib, financed by him and others trained as a pilot. Richard Murray was recruited as a courier.”
The group operated as an organised crime network with Adel Chouhaib organising the importation and distribution of the drugs.
The operation was funded by the McGlone brothers, who were also involved in the plot to flood Britain with the cocaine.
Hilali arranged for the supply of drugs from Amsterdam while Burgess and Murray acted as couriers.
The drugs were collected from Amsterdam by Murray who drove by car to meet Burgess at an airstrip in Abbeville, France.
He then flew back to the UK with the shipment of drugs in a micro-light aircraft before landing at Deenethorpe Airfield near Corby.
Co-ordinated arrests were made after Burgess landed the plane and Murray re-entered the country in Dover, Kent.
Christopher McGlone served three tours of duty in Iraq with the British Army.
Charles Kayne, defending, revealed that the ex squaddie was “vulnerable” when he joined the gang after suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Mr Kayne said: “He was vulnerable at the time of the operation and when he was offered the chance to join the gang.
“He has no previous convictions and we can see from the evidence that there is good within this man.
“He was vulnerable and the decision to take part in this operation was the one aberration in this man’s life.”
A UK Border Force spokesperson said: “Our officers are on constant alert to keep class A drugs and other banned substances out of the UK.
“Working together with other law enforcement colleagues we are determined to stop them reaching our streets and our communities.”