Five suspects have been arrested in early morning raids in an operation linked to the recovery of 2.3 tonnes of cocaine worth £190m.
Four men aged between 28 and 57 and one woman aged 53 are currently being held in custody on suspicion of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and money laundering.
The arrests and search warrants – which resulted in the recovery of around £30,000 in cash from two addresses – are linked to the 2.3 tonnes seizure from the luxury yacht ‘Kahu’ two weeks ago.
Today’s strikes were supported by officers from Cleveland Police and the NERSOU (North East Regional Serious Organised Crime Unit) targeting alleged UK drugs couriers of an international organised crime group.
A sixth man aged 51 was also arrested today on suspicion of cannabis cultivation.
Gavin Heckles, NCA operations manager, said: “The National Crime Agency is working with domestic and international partners to investigate this organised crime group from top to bottom.
“Class A drugs wreck lives and can devastate communities – fighting their importation and distribution through the UK is a priority for us.”
Chief Inspector Rachel Stockdale, of Cleveland Police, said: “Drugs cause misery in our communities and we work with partners to target the organised criminals profiting from this trade.
“We’d encourage anyone concerned about drugs activity to speak to the police, your local information, however small, could be crucial to ongoing investigations.”
The huge drugs haul was made on 9 September when Border Force stopped the Kahu 80 miles off the Plymouth coast in an operation also involving the Australian Federal Police.
Six men have been charged with drug trafficking offences – British national Andrew Cole, 32, from Stockton on Tees, County Durham, and Nicaraguans Billy Downs, 49, Denson White-Morales, 34, Edwin Taylor-Morgan, 40, Brynie Sjogreen, 38 and Ryan Taylor, 42.
The men – one Briton from Stockton on Tees, County Durham, and five Nicaraguans – were arrested on Thursday evening 80 miles off the coast of Plymouth in an operation led by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and supported by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Border Force.
The suspects were aboard the Kahu – a luxury Jamaican-flagged yacht sailing from the Caribbean. It was escorted back to the UK mainland where a team carried out a deep rummage search and discovered the enormous haul of Class A.
The men, whose ages range from 24 to 49, were arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking and are in custody awaiting interview.
The arrests demonstrate the strength of the NCA’s international partnerships – working with the AFP who as part of the operation used evidence from their Operation Ironside – the country’s investigation into the AnOm encrypted comms platform.
Matt Horne, NCA deputy director, said: “This is a massive haul of cocaine with an estimated street value of around £160m.
“There’s no doubt these drugs would have been sold on into communities across the UK in such ways as County Lines fuelling more crime and misery.
“Organised crime groups are motivated by money. The deprivation of these drugs will smash a hole in the OCG’s plans and ability to operate.
“Also, the arrests of the men transporting the drugs means the crime group has lost trusted offenders who would have been key to their operation.
“We continue to work with partners at home such as Border Force and those abroad such as the AFP to protect the public from the Class A drugs threat.”
The boat originally served as a small navy patrol vessel before being purchased and undergoing an extensive refit at Fitzroy Yachts in 2011.
The then-owner of both Kahu and the Fitzroy Yachts yard, Peter White-Robinson, when interviewed by SuperyachtNews in 2012, outlined his family’s plan for Kahu to undertake a full round-the-world itinerary, finishing in 2015.
Kahu set sail in August 2012; however, after reaching Canada in May 2013, Fitzroy Yachts fell into financial difficulties, and White-Robinson stepped down.
The voyage was cancelled, and Kahu was sold. The exploration focussed refit of Kahu was extensive, as White-Robinson said at the time: “We added a lot of equipment like a sewage treatment plant, watermakers, a third generator, stabilisers, bow and stern thrusters and an extra anchoring system.
We’ve upgraded all the electronics and GPS, radar, and we have a whole different suite of instruments up there in the bridge.”
Most importantly, considering the travel itinerary planned, its fuel capacity was upped from 13,000l to 32,000l, giving an 8000-mile range at 8 knots, as White-Robinson continued, “The navy listed their range as being 1300 miles, so we have a much better range now.”
Kahu’s last known asking price was around €1.5 million and it was seized with what has been estimated as €200 million worth of cocaine on board.
Considering the potential range and capabilities of the vessel, its repurposing is easier to understand.
At a superficial level, the regularity of crossings from the Caribbean and Latin America to the UK and Europe may have implied that this voyage was not out of the ordinary.
However, initial reports suggest that a coordinated investigation between The Australian Federal Police and the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) was tracking the vessel and aware of its cargo.
It also serves as a warning to the industry; there are many smaller, ageing and private vessels that can be misused.
More than 800 suspected criminals have been arrested worldwide after being tricked into using an FBI-run encrypted messaging app, officials say.
The operation, jointly conceived by Australia and the FBI, saw devices with the ANOM app secretly distributed among criminals, allowing police to monitor their chats about drug smuggling, money laundering and even murder plots.
Officials called it a watershed moment.
Targets included drug gangs and people with links to the mafia.
Drugs, weapons, luxury vehicles and cash were also seized in the operation, which was conducted across more than a dozen countries. This included eight tonnes of cocaine, 250 guns and more than $48m (£34m) in various worldwide currencies and cryptocurrencies.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the operation had “struck a heavy blow against organised crime” around the world.
European Union police agency Europol described Operation Trojan Shield/Greenlight as the “biggest ever law enforcement operation against encrypted communication”.
The FBI began operating an encrypted device network called ANOM, and covertly distributed devices with the chat app among the criminal underworld via informants.
The idea for the operation came after two other encrypted platforms were taken down by law enforcement agencies, leaving criminal gangs in the market for new secure phones.
The devices were initially used by alleged senior crime figures, giving other criminals the confidence to use the platform.