A father of two has been caged for five years for smuggling drugs worth £7 million into Batley.
Ismail Laher, 42, acted as UK “distribution manager” for an operation which saw 450 kg of cannabis and 37 kg of amphetamine powder concealed in boxes delivered to Soothill business park.
Leeds Crown Court heard that Laher, a tyre business owner, was paid 3000 euros for each delivery he took from the Netherlands between January and May this year.
Ian Richardson, prosecuting, told the court that nine shipments had been successfully delivered before suspicions were raised.
Laher, of Chapel Fold, Staincliffe, created a false identity – Bob Locker – and a fake company – UK Logistics – to take the deliveries at Halifax Road trading estate in Staincliffe. Drivers found no such company on arrival and were instead directed by Laher to a unit in Soothill business park. There boxes with coloured stickers on were unloaded for onward distribution.
A tenth consignment was tracked by officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and almost half a ton of skunk cannabis, 37 kg of amphetamine powder and 1.24 kg of cannabis resin was seized by border force officers at the port of Immingham in May.
Andrew Dallas, mitigating, told the court that Laher was a respected businessman who had to come to the UK from South Africa in 1994. He married locally and had two children, aged 16 and 13. “He was highly industrious in attempts to support his family,” Mr Dallas added.
Laher embarked on various business ventures before importing tyres into Britain, but he became embroiled in around £155,000 of debt owed to banks, family and friends.
He became involved in the drugs plot after a legitimate business contact offered him the opportunity. “He acted as a distribution manager in the UK,” Mr Dallas said.
“He comes from a very large family and a very devoted family and they are as horrified about his situation as he is ashamed. His motivation was not greed as much as desperation.”
Around 20 members of his family packed into court on Wednesday to see Laher sentenced to five years and four months in jail by Recorder Tim Hirst. He said: “You had a very significant role – an operational or management function within a chain of importation.
“It is sad to see a man in your position facing a sentence of this length.”
NCA branch commander David Norris said: “Laher was attempting to bring in a substantial quantity of drugs and acted as a key link in a wider international network.
“However, thanks to the work of my officers and our colleagues in Border Force he is now behind bars.
“We will now seek to use the Proceeds of Crime Act to prevent him from benefiting financially from his criminality.”
The NCA is a new law enforcement agency tasked with leading the UK’s fight to cut serious and organised crime.
Kevin Parsons, acting assistant director for border force at the Humber Ports, said: “This case should serve as a warning to anyone tempted to try to smuggle drugs into the UK. You will be caught and brought before the courts.”