independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Drugs empire kingpin Philip Baron is sentenced to 18 years

Philip Baron

THE leader of a drugs empire which imported almost £110m worth of cocaine and cannabis into the UK so he could lead a "lavish lifestyle" was today jailed for 18 years.

Philip Baron, 58, was the kingpin in an international cartel which smuggled cocaine from South America to Spain and then to the UK.

He imported two shipments of cocaine totalling 132lb (60kg), which had an estimated street value of £19.2m, a sentencing hearing at Liverpool Crown Court was told.

Baron, who masqueraded as a legitimate businessman, also ran a sophisticated cannabis smuggling operation which was worth around £90m.

Passing sentence, Judge David Aubrey QC said Baron, along with other members of his operation, sold the drugs on a "commercial scale" so "you could lead the life you did".

Sentencing Baron to 18 years in prison the judge said: "It was driven by avarice and greed."

"It was a trade and an empire and you cared not for the lives of others. You may have destroyed lives. It may have led people to commit crime. It may have led to despair and desperation. None of that concerned you. You were only concerned with yourself and leading a lavish lifestyle," he said.

Baron was a leading figure in an international ring who owned yachts and sports cars as well as luxury villas in Spain, all funded by drug money.

He admitted three counts including conspiracy to import cocaine between March and November 2008, conspiracy to import cannabis between September 2005 and September 2009, and money laundering.

Yesterday the court heard how Baron was nicknamed "Butlin''.

William Baker, opening the case for the prosecution, told the court that a recording device had been placed in the home of the defendant's daughter, Rachel Baron.

Mr Baker said the device "recorded her saying her father was called Butlin because he had likened a Spanish prison he had been in to a holiday camp".

It is understood that Baron spent time in a prison in Malaga, Spain, on drug related charges.

Rachel Baron was jailed for three years at an earlier hearing for picking up and distributing cash on her father's behalf, the court heard.

Baron was "one of the organisers of a highly sophisticated criminal enterprise that imported drugs to the UK", the court was told.

Mr Baker said: "He was involved in the importation of 60kg of cocaine in two shipments in November 2008 and about 31,500kg (69,446lb) of cannabis in numerous shipments between 2005 and 2009.

"The drugs were concealed in document boxes labelled as items such as technical manuals or brochures."

The boxes were shipped from Spain using legitimate couriers to "virtual offices" or rented premises from where they were collected and supplied on.

The offices were placed all over the UK including Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester, Bolton, Rochdale which the judge said illustrated "how extensive and widespread" the conspiracy was.

Mr Baker said: "It was a highly profitable enterprise that generated huge sums of cash."

"On Philip Baron's instructions, Rachel Baron spent £59,824 on eight watches at Lepps Jewellers in Altrincham in Cheshire."

"She also paid a £5,000 deposit for a Bentley Continental GT Coupe at a car dealer in Leeds. Philip Baron paid the balance of the purchase price - £80,925 - by bank transfers.''

Mr Baker told the court that they had not got "anywhere near to the bottom of Philip Baron's finances" which he referred to as "opaque".

The court heard that Baron, who is balding with grey hair and was wearing glasses and a dark suit, sourced the cocaine from Costa Rica after making a trip there in November 2008 when he stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Jose.

When the cocaine was discovered by the authorities it was found to be of 83% purity - street level seizures commonly have purities of below 10%, the court heard.

The former HGV driver from Salford, who was living in Ireland, near five-star golf resort the K Club, had fought extradition to the UK for two years but was brought back in November 2012.

He and his associates ran a smuggling operation which police say was in the top 10 biggest ever uncovered in Britain - while authorities in Ireland thought he ran a company which rented deckchairs in Spain.

According to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the gang smuggled around 52 tonnes of drugs over 15 years and laundered millions of pounds of their illegal profits.

They were brought down by evidence including calls made by accomplice Walter Callinan, 60, from prison, which were listened to by police.

In one conversation, he was heard bragging that the authorities had ''f*** all'', but in a later call to Baron he realised that key documents had been found at the home of money launderer Malcolm Carle.

Callinan was recorded saying: "We're f***** on it, mate, they've got that much documentation. F****** hell, the Pope wouldn't get out of it."

Twenty-eight members of the gang have already been convicted and jailed for their roles in the scam.

They include Paul Yearsley, jailed for five years and four months for drug trafficking, who was featured in his multimillion-pound house in a spread in magazine Lancashire Life.

Timothy Forte, defending Baron, said his client accepted that he had played an "organising and leading role".

He said Baron was of previous good character and had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

Mr Forte said Baron had been making money from "the cannabis enterprise" and had "dipped his toe'' into the cocaine market when he was asked to come in by another drugs kingpin as a ''troubleshooter''.

Prosecutors now plan to try to seize his assets.

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