Drug Smugglers' £29m Cocaine Operation busted by Farmer f

“These two men played vital roles in trying to flood UK streets”

Two drug smugglers received lengthy prison sentences after their £29 million operation was exposed by a farmer.

Anand Tripathi and Varun Bhardwaj used their freight company as a cover to clear shipping containers that held drugs and cigarettes.

The containers were diverted from their intended destination to a warehouse they controlled.

At the warehouse, they would be offloaded by organised crime groups.

Their operation was exposed when they failed to divert one container. Instead, it went to a farm in Somerset in April 2022.

A farmer found plastic-covered blocks of cocaine with a street value of £15 million hidden amongst animal feed from Colombia.

He was unsure about the items but told police he had seen “similar packages on films and TV programmes which were drugs”.

The investigation uncovered previous shipments seized by Border Force during routine container searches at the docks.

By setting up shell companies, Tripathi and Bhardwaj tried to avoid detection until the botched delivery to Somerset.

Isleworth Crown Court heard the pair imported 272.86 kilograms of cocaine and 2,503.36 kilograms of cannabis across four shipments between September 2021 and November 2022.

One shipment contained just over two tonnes of cannabis amongst yams from Ghana.

Another contained 49 kilograms of cocaine was concealed with oranges from South Africa.

In total, the drugs had an estimated street value of £28.9 million but were seized before they could be sold. They were later destroyed by police.

Drug Smugglers' £29m Cocaine Operation busted by Farmer

When police searched Bhardwaj’s West London home, they discovered a one-kilogram packet of cannabis in a cupboard under the stairs valued at £10,000.

He claimed he was keeping it as evidence after falling out of a shipment during unloading. Bhardwaj did not know what it contained and was going to inform the police but never did.

Bhardwaj also refused to provide the PIN to one of his mobile phones.

The drug smugglers were convicted of importing cocaine, importing cannabis and evading duty payable on cigarettes.

Bhardwaj was also convicted of cannabis possession and failing to disclose the PIN number.

Anand Tripathi, aged 61, was jailed for 15 years.

Varun Bhardwaj, aged 39, was jailed for 19 years.

Richard Partridge, of the CPS, said:

“These two men played vital roles in trying to flood UK streets with huge quantities of illegal drugs.

“The cost and damage to lives that drugs cause in our society is incalculable.

“This conspiracy was only made possible by Anand Tripathi’s experience in importation and customs clearance, and Varun Bhardwaj’s willingness to assume day-to-day management of their operation.

“There were clearly others involved in the scheme who haven’t yet been identified but this successful operation and their substantial sentences serves as a warning that authorities in the UK work together to disrupt and prosecute smugglers.”

DCI Paul Fisher, of the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit, said:

“The amount seized over a 13-month period goes to show the significant involvement these individuals had in bringing commercial amounts of drugs and into the UK.

“By working closely and collaboratively with our partner agencies this organised crime network has been dismantled and vast quantities of drugs destined for our streets have been eradicated.

“These are two very serious criminals who I’m glad to see have been given substantial sentences to reflect the magnitude of their offending.”

The drug smugglers were also sentenced for not paying £9,774,220 in import duties and VAT on 18.6 million cigarettes they smuggled on three dates, separate from the drug imports. They were also destroyed by police.

The three cigarette shipments were hidden alongside Bombay Mix from Mumbai, coconut fibre used to manufacture doormats from Sri Lanka, and biscuits from Chennai.

The drugs and cigarettes were seized on different dates at ports including Portsmouth, Felixstowe and London Gateway.