West midlands police officers have helped bring down an international drugs ring which was caught with up to £1 million worth of cocaine.
The haul was discovered as part of a West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) led investigation into drugs trading across the UK, eastern Europe and America.
Following a large operation,a BMW was stopped by colleagues from Humberside Police in Grimsby last October and the stash, along with almost £200,000 worth of MDMA and cannabis, was found hidden inside two holdalls alongside the cocaine.
Two members of the gang – Ilja Palionnijs and Egons Semjonovs – were already under police surveillance and CCTV showed them putting the drug-filled bags into the car outside a hotel where they were staying in the town.
The BMW driver Igor Gridin and passenger Aleksej Sagamogas were then stopped shortly afterwards and all four men – from Latvia – were arrested and subsequently charged with possession with intent to supply drugs.
Officers found a rucksack in the vehicle with packaging material and receipts which showed items weighing a number of kilos had been transported to other parts of the world. This included two parcels intercepted in America which contained drugs.
Text messages from ring leader Palionnijs’ phone showed he was directing the trade of drugs across continents. He and Semjonovs had flown from Riga to London and then at some stage collected the drugs.
They had travelled to Grimsby separately to Gridin and Sagamogas who then drove from London to meet them the next day for the exchange. CCTV evidence secured following the arrests showed Gridin and Sagamogas had previously been involved in the distribution of drug packages.
The four men were jailed for almost 50 years combined at Great Grimsby Crown Court on 8 September 2021.
It was culmination of a combined sting led by West Midlands ROCU with support from the National Crime Agency, Europol, the US Department of Homeland Security and the Latvian Organised Crime Division.
Detective Inspector Dave Hollies, from West Midlands ROCU, said: “This was a significant drugs ring and the global pandemic was no deterrent in their carefully-laid plans to import and export across continents.
“It was due to the combined efforts of police forces, and other law enforcement agencies across the world, we were able to pinpoint and bring this network down.
“We’ve not only taken a haul of drugs out of circulation but stopped this gang from trading. Drugs can not only cost lives, but lead to further crime, and there will be no let-up in our work to tackle those involved in the illegal supply of them.”
The four were sentenced as follows for possession with intent to supply Class A and B drugs:
Ilja Palionnijs, aged 31, of no fixed address, was jailed for 14 years and four months
Egons Semjonovs (29), of no fixed address, was jailed for 10 years and six months
Igor Gridin (36) of no fixed address, was jailed for 12 years and three months
Aleksej Sagamogas (31) of no fixed address, was jailed for 10 years and six months