Monday 23 April 2018

Three men admit guilt in €350m cocaine smuggling ring

The Makayabella was intercepted by the Naval Service.
The Makayabella was intercepted by the Naval Service.

Ralph Riegal

THREE men have pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle over €350m worth of Columbian cocaine.

The seizure last September off the Cork coast of the ocean-going yacht, ‘Makayabella’, ranks as one of the biggest in the history of Irish anti-drug operations.

The haul of 41 bales of cocaine was initially valued at €80m but such was the purity of the drugs it is now estimated to have a street value of around €350m.

Today, John Powell (71) pleaded guilty before Cork Circuit Criminal Court to charges of drug possession and attempted smuggling  of drugs.

Earlier this month, two other men, Benjamin Mellor (35) and Thomas Britteon (28), pleaded guilty to similar charges.

The trio, all of whom are UK nationals, will be sentenced later today.

The 28-year old yacht ‘Makayabella’ was stopped and boarded by the Naval Service 250km off the Mizen Head on September 23 last.

The yacht was detained by the LE Niamh supported by the LE Roisin.

A total of 41 bales of cocaine were seized as part of a joint Garda, Customs & Excise and Naval Service operation.

The yacht was boarded following co-operation between Ireland and seven other jurisdictions via the Lisbon-based Maritime Analysis Operations Centre-Narcotics (MAOCN).

The ‘Makayabella’, which was charted from a Grenadine Islands-based boat hire firm, remains under detention.

The 30m (60ft) yacht underwent a detailed forensic analysis after its seizure.

All three men were charged with the possession of a controlled drug, namely cocaine, on board the yacht, 'Makayabella' on September 23 2014 knowing or suspecting that it was for importation contrary to Section 5 (1-A) of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The cocaine was found to have a purity level of 70pc.

Powell of 10 Airedale Mews, Silsden, West Yorkshire, UK replied when first charged: “That is all clear.”

Britteon of 120 Convamore Road, Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire, UK told gardai after being charged: “I am sorry for what I done.”

Mellor of Manningham, Moringtom Villas, Bradford, Yorkshire, UK made no reply to gardai when charged.

The 41 bales of cocaine were transferred to Dublin under armed garda escort within 48 hours of the yacht being brought into Haulbowline Naval Base.

In seven years, three drug seizures off the Cork coast – all of which involved ocean-going yachts which had visited the Caribbean and Central America – accounted for more than €1bn worth of cocaine.

The largest seizure remains the €440m of high grade Columbian cocaine seized in Dunlough Bay in west Cork in July 2007.

That smuggling plot was scuppered when the UK gang involved overloaded a smaller boat used to ferry the drugs ashore and accidentally filled a spare fuel tank with diesel instead of petrol.

Their small boat, helpless without power after the outboard engine failed, capsized in heavy seas.

A total of 62 bales of Columbian cocaine were left floating in the bay with a purity level of more than 75pc and a street value of €440m – more than double what Gardai had originally anticipated.

In November 2008, the yacht ‘Dances With Waves’ was intercepted by the Naval Service, Gardai and Customs & Excise almost 100km off the west Cork coast.

The yacht was found to be carrying 1.5 tonnes of cocaine destined for the UK market.

However, the huge shipment, because its purity was not as high as the Dunlough Bay seizure, was eventually given a street value of under €400m.

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