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Phone evidence helps catch smugglers who hid heroin in chapatti oven

A group of smugglers who tried to import a consignment of high-purity heroin from Islamabad hidden inside a chapatti oven have recently been sentenced to a total of 26 years in prison.

Mohammed Aslam Khan, 61, from Ashton-Under-Lyne, and Arbab Akhtar, 29, from Blackburn, both admitted conspiring to import Class A drugs. Kulwinder El Assad, 40, from Tipton in the West Midlands, was found guilty after a four day trial at Leeds Crown Court.

On Friday 2 October she was sentenced to 12 years in prison, while Akhtar and Khan received eight and six year jail terms. 

National Crime Agency investigators used phone evidence to prove the links between the conspirators and place them at key locations in the plot.

The NCA was called in on 26 March 2014 after Border Force officers at Leeds Bradford Airport opened an unclaimed package on a luggage carousel.

Inside they discovered the oven, which contained almost 13 kilos of heroin. If cut and sold in the UK the drugs would have had a potential likely street value of around £1.9 million.

A day later Khan and El Assad were arrested at the airport by the NCA when they arrived to pick up the parcel.

In interviews Khan, who had arrived on the same Islamabad flight as the parcel, said he travelled to Pakistan to visit a dying relative. El Assad told officers she didn’t know Khan and was a paid escort.

Khan’s ticket for the trip had been bought and paid for by Akhtar,  who was arrested at Manchester Airport as he returned from Pakistan to the UK in July.

Akhtar claimed never to have met Khan, but phone and CCTV analysis showed he had driven to Ashton-Under-Lyne to collect Khan, taken him to Blackburn to get his ticket and then dropped him off at the airport for his outbound flight.

Akhtar’s phone was in the Bradford area on the day Khan returned, and had been in contact with Khan’s phone and a number in Pakistan which was also found on El Assad’s mobile.

NCA senior investigating officer Mick Maloney said:

“These three individuals were involved in an international conspiracy to source class A drugs worth almost £2 million and bring them back to the UK. I’ve no doubt that had they not been stopped the heroin would have ended up being sold on UK streets.

“A lot of work had gone into this concealment which tells me they were part of a professional drug trafficking crime network.

“All three played key roles. El Assad was in touch with those they sourced the drugs from in Pakistan. Akhtar was the logistics man who made all the travel arrangements and was in regular contact with the others, while Khan was the courier.

“Working with Border Force and other law enforcement colleagues the NCA is determined to target and disrupt criminal groups involved in drug trafficking.”

Mark Robinson, Assistant Director for Border Force Yorkshire & Humber, said:

“This case sends a strong message to the criminal gangs involved in drug smuggling.

“Border Force officers are on the front line to stop harmful substances like heroin making it into the UK and damaging our communities. We use a range of high-tech search equipment to detect illicit goods and counter the tactics used by criminals.

“As this investigation demonstrates, we work closely with the NCA to disrupt drug traffickers and put those responsible behind bars.”


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