A married couple have been convicted of exporting more than half a tonne of cocaine to Australia, after a National Crime Agency investigation found they were behind a front company that had sent the drugs by plane under a cover load of metal toolboxes.
Arti Dhir, 59, and Kavaljitsinh Raijada, 35, from Hanwell, Ealing, were identified by NCA investigators after Australian Border Force intercepted the cocaine, worth £57 million, upon its arrival in Sydney in May 2021.
The drugs had been shipped via a commercial flight from the UK and consisted of six metal toolboxes which, when opened, were found to contain 514 kilos of cocaine.
The drugs would have been worth up to £57 million when sold in Australia, where prices are significantly higher than in the UK.
In the UK, a kilo of cocaine at wholesale is priced around £26,000 per kilo but in Australia the same amount sells for £110,000.
Officers traced the consignment back to Dhir and Raijada, who had set up a front company called Viefly Freight Services with the sole purpose of smuggling drugs. Both defendants had been director of the company at different points since its incorporation in June 2015.
Raijada’s fingerprints were found on the plastic wrappings of the metal toolboxes containing the seized drugs, while receipts for the order of the toolboxes, worth £2855, were discovered at the couple’s home.
The NCA’s case was that there had been 37 consignments sent to Australia since June 2019, of which 22 were dummy runs and 15 contained cocaine.
Dhir had been employed by a flight services company at Heathrow from March 2003 until October 2016. Raijada worked at the same company from March 2014 to December 2016. NCA investigators believe that their knowledge of the airport freight procedures was used to cover their criminal activities.
Dhir and Raijada were arrested at their home in Hanwell on 21 June 2021. Officers seized £5000 worth of gold-plated silver bars, £13,000 inside the home and found £60,000 in cash in a safety deposit box.
Following further investigations, the pair were arrested again in February 2023. NCA officers discovered almost £3 million in cash hidden in boxes and suitcases at a storage unit in Hanwell, which Raijada had rented in his mother’s name.
Financial inquiries found they had also purchased a flat in Ealing for £800,000 and a Land Rover for £62,000, despite declaring profits of only a few thousand pounds to HMRC.
Investigations showed that both defendants held cash in bank accounts which far exceeded their declared income. They had deposited almost £740,000 in cash into 22 different bank accounts since 2019 and were further charged with money laundering.
Dhir and Raijada denied exporting cocaine to Australia and money laundering. They were convicted of 12 counts of exportation and 18 counts of money laundering by a jury following a trial at Southwark Crown Court today (29 January). They will be sentenced at the same court tomorrow (30 January).
The NCA will now start Proceeds of Crime proceedings against both defendants to strip them of their assets.
Piers Phillips, NCA Senior Investigating Officer, said: “Arti Dhir and Kavaljitsinh Raijada used their insider knowledge of the air freight industry to traffic cocaine worth tens of millions of pounds from the UK to Australia, where they knew they could maximise their revenue.
“They kept their illicit profits in cash at their home and in storage units, as well as purchasing property, gold and silver in an attempt to hide their wealth. These defendants may have thought they were removed from the misery caused by the drugs trade but their greed was fuelling it.
“The NCA worked closely with our partners in Australia and UK Border Force to dismantle the supply chain created by Dhir and Raijada and bring them to justice. We will continue to target class A drugs supply and the criminals overseeing it, both in the UK and overseas.”
Commander of the New South Wales Police Force Organised Crime Squad, Detective Superintendent Peter Faux, said the result was a great example of how law enforcement are working together to disrupt the international drug trade.
Det Supt Faux said: “The partnership between both authorities in Australia, and abroad, was the reason police were able to stop a sophisticated attempt at importing drugs via air freight into Australia and hold those responsible accountable.
“Serious and organised criminal networks often have no borders, which is why working collaboratively with our international counterparts is so important to tackle what is a global issue.”