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Ten convicted over plot to smuggle drugs through Dover in fridge van

Four would-be smugglers yesterday joined six convicted for a plot to bring drugs through the port of Dover in a false-bottomed fridge van.

Following an investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA), a jury found Alexandrs Voroneckis, Aigars Kokins, Andris Baltais and Viktor Medvetkiy guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin at Manchester Crown Court.

The four were the Kent-based arm of a plot hatched by Edward Avis, 63, from Aigburth, Liverpool, to pick up 7.7kg of cocaine and almost 6.5kg of heroin in Antwerp and import it to the UK.

Avis, along with his Merseyside-based associates Ian Pauline, Phillip Cray, Paul Firth, Darren Hunter and Terri Mellor, avoided trial by pleading guilty to the charges.

Her Honour Judge Manley said the group should expect “substantial custodial sentence”.

Baltais, 40, and Medvestkiy, 43, worked for haulage firms and brought Voroneckis and Kokins, both 29, in to the conspiracy to drive the drugs to the UK from the Belgian city.

On March 4 2016, Belgian police officers, acting on NCA intelligence, watched Avis and Pauline, 50, also from Aigburth, hand Kokins and Voroneckis a wheeled black holdall in a sidestreet in the city.

The officers arrested Kokins and Voroneckis in the back of the white van with the empty black holdall, while Pauline and Avis were held at the scene.

On searching the van the Belgian officers found the drugs, which had a combined potential value to organised crime of £464,000, split into 13 packages under the floor.

The same day, NCA officers arrested Hunter, 48, Firth, 41, Cray, 53, and Mellor, 48, in the Merseyside area and Medvetskiy and Baltais in the Kent area.

The conspirators were linked by NCA officers who filmed them meeting in parks, cemeteries and petrol stations.

Avis, who was jailed in 1998 after undercover officers taped him organising a drugs plot in a cafe, demanded the group’s meetings took place outdoors.

But texts sent between Medvetskiy, Baltais and Hunter on 3 March last year listed a handover address at which the Belgian police later seized the drugs.

Officers found the same address written on paper in a red Lacoste wallet in Paul Firth’s car, while a notepad seized at Hunter and Mellor’s shared house revealed indents on its cover matching phone numbers for Kokins and Voroneckis.

The address of the handover in Antwerp was also on the pad and was separately found written on a note pad at Firth’s house.

Mellor’s phone contained photographs of the inside of the fridge van and in her and Hunter’s kitchen, officers found 85 sheets of A4 paper which had been impregnated with cocaine together with instructions for its separation from the paper.

In the bedroom were two bags containing a paracetemol and caffeine mix used to adulterate drugs.

Officers also found 223g of cocaine at Cray’s address in Liverpool, with a potential street value of about £10,000.

A provisional sentencing date was set for 26 March.

NCA branch commander David Norris said: “When drugs are sold money flows into the criminal economy and funds other forms of crime. Result like this deprive organised crime of the cash flow it needs to operate.

“And of course these drugs do serious damage to people. Avis and his crew had no regard for the harm that would follow when this cocaine and heroin was sold on to dealers. Their actions were purely for financial gain.

“We’ll continue to work with our law enforcement colleagues in both the UK and the rest of the world to stop smugglers importing illicit cargo to the UK from abroad.”


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