2 convicted for smuggling cocaine into UK in animal feed

Two men have been sentenced for the illegal importation of drugs in the United Kingdom, after packages of cocaine were found in a delivery of animal feed in 2022.

Gavel Scales Of Justice
Piotr Adamowicz | BigStock.com

Two men have been sentenced for the illegal importation of drugs in the United Kingdom, after packages of cocaine were found in a delivery of animal feed in 2022.

After a trial in Isleworth Crown Court in London, Varun Bhardwaj, 39, from Hounslow, and Anand Tripathi, 61, from Middlesex, were sentenced to 19 years and 15 years, respectively, after being found guilty of importing cocaine, cannabis and cigarettes into the U.K. hidden in shipments of perishable goods, including animal feed.

Bhardwaj was handed an additional two-year sentence, which will run concurrently, for possession of 1 kilogram of cannabis, with a street value more than GBP10,000 (US$12,650), and the failure to disclose a PIN for one of his mobile phones.

The South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SWROCU) began investigating the case in April 2022 after a farmer near Bridgwater in Somerset called authorities to report that he had found kilo-block packages within his normal delivery of animal feed.

The shipping container was inspected by SWROCU officers and found to contain 189 kilos of cocaine with a street value of more than GBP15 million. The container had been shipped from Columbia to London Gateway Port.

Tatab Ltd., a customs clearing agent based in Hounslow, was inextricably linked to the importation and transport of this illegal shipment. Tripathi was the director and company secretary of Tatab – a company that facilitates the import and export of goods.

Bhardwaj – who tried to distance himself from Tatab, saying he had limited involvement with the company – was found to be the operations manager and reported to Tripathi. Bhardwaj also owned and drove a Range Rover with the personalized registration plate TA07 TAB (TATAB).

Tatab was just one of several companies created or run by Tripathi and Bhardwaj to try to conceal their illegal activities. The pair set up bogus businesses and used pseudonyms in order to cover their tracks and distance themselves from the illegal imports.

In November 2022, officers from SWROCU arrested Tripathi and Bhardwaj. At the same time, U.K. Border Force was holding another container at the Port of Felixstowe linked to the men. This time, the shipment contained oranges from South Africa and, on inspection, 49 kilos of cocaine were discovered and seized with a street value of almost GBP4 million.

The investigation, which was supported by the Metropolitan Police, U.K. Border Force, HMRC and the NCA, then linked the pair with a further two shipments dating back to September 2021 and January 2022 where cocaine and cannabis were hidden inside containers of yams.

In addition to the drugs, between February and October 2022 Tripathi and Bhardwaj imported three shipments of cigarettes – a total of 18,680,000 cigarettes – in containers of Bombay mix, coir fibre and biscuits, with the two men evading the GBP9.7milllion excise and customs duty which should have been payable.

“The amount seized over a 13-month period goes to show the significant involvement these individuals had in bringing commercial amounts of drugs and cigarettes into the U.K.,” said Paul Fisher of SWROCU. “By working closely and collaboratively with our partner agencies, this organized 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.”

Page 1 of 4
Next Page