"supplying high-purity cocaine on a truly industrial scale."
Two men from the West Midlands have been jailed for a combined total of 34 years after police found a £20 million cocaine haul being transported under the guise of frozen chicken deliveries.
Birmingham Crown Court heard that 16 kilograms of cocaine were found in a secret compartment in a van stopped in East London on October 24, 2019.
GPS data revealed it made four journeys to Sandwell, where Baldev Sahota supplied the driver with boxes containing the drugs to be taken back to London.
On December 11, 2019, police stopped a van on the A45 that Sahota had been driving.
They found a further 168kg of cocaine hidden inside three pallets of frozen chicken. Sahota was subsequently arrested.
An industrial unit in Park Road, Hockley was later raided, where Shakti Gupta was present and where more cocaine and two encrypted mobiles were recovered.
Text messages referred to a “fresh supply” of 168kg, with one customer indicating he wanted it all.
Gupta had received orders for 100kg of cocaine to be delivered by couriers to various locations in Birmingham.
More boxes, along with digital scales and approximately £1,400 in cash were also found. MDMA and a 1kg bag of cutting agent were also discovered.
On January 9, 2020, both men admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine.
Following their pleas, police believed the drugs were intended for supply on the streets of London.
At their sentencing hearing on May 27, 2020, Judge Peter Carr told them:
“This is a conspiracy of supplying high-purity cocaine on a truly industrial scale.”
He said the conspiracy’s sophistication was highlighted by the CCTV system in the van stopped in London.
Judge Carr said the total amounted to 210kg with a purity of between 82 and 86%. The drugs had a wholesale value of £6.5 million and with a street value of between £14 million and £25 million.
He said that Gupta had been “close to the original source and had expected substantial financial gain”.
Balraj Bhatia, for Gupta, said: “He is a decent hard-working family man who put others above his own needs.”
He said his client had trained as a gas engineer and used the unit to store plumbing equipment, however, the business got into difficulties in late 2019.
After meeting a man, he agreed to allow the unit to be used for drugs and drug-related paraphernalia.
Mr Bhatia added: “He was not instrumental in the set-up of the conspiracy. His business was used for storage for onward distribution.”
Balbir Singh, for Sahota, said: “Sahota’s only contact with customers was making deliveries.
“He is the man who was sent out to do the dirty work, the dangerous work, the one on the ground.
“He was controlled and directed as to what to do. He was not into this to make himself rich.”
Gupta, aged 34, of Quinton, Birmingham, was jailed for 18 years.
Sahota, aged 54, of Oldbury, received a 16-year prison sentence.
A third man had been supplied with drugs. He was previously jailed for 10 years after he was stopped by police at an M6 service station.
After sentencing, Detective Superintendent Neil Ballard said the drugs seizure sent a “clear message” to those involved in organised crime.
He said: “This operation has resulted in one of the largest land seizures of cocaine within the UK.
“It is a significant find which demonstrates the scale of this organised drug supply operation which the Met has successfully dismantled.
“The audacity of those involved and the lack of consideration for the impact of their criminality is clear.
“We have continually stated there is an inextricable link between the supply of drugs and the violence we have seen unfolding on the streets of London.
“The distribution of this cocaine would have no doubt had a devastating impact on our communities.”