British drugs kingpin gets 22 years jail in France for cocaine trafficking

Briton Robert Dawes (L) and co-accused Robert Dawes (R) at Paris courthouse on Dec. 21, on the last day of a of a two-week trial for drug trafficking.
Updated 22 December 2018

British drugs kingpin gets 22 years jail in France for cocaine trafficking

  • Dawes maintained that he and his family made their money from a variety of businesses in Spain
  • The cocaine found on the Air France flight from Caracas had a street value of some 240 million euros ($275 million)

PARIS: A Briton accused of being one of Europe’s biggest drug traffickers was jailed for 22 years on Friday for smuggling over a ton of cocaine into France in suitcases stashed on an Air France flight.
The court said Robert Dawes, 46, would have to serve at least 15 years with no possibility of parole over the brazen 2013 drugs shipment from Venezuela to Paris.
Dawes, who had denied the charges, was arrested at his luxury villa on the Spanish Costa del Sol in 2015 following a lengthy investigation by authorities in Britain, France, Spain and South America.
“I continue to claim my innocence,” he said Friday morning in his final statement to the special non-jury court.
The case was tried by five judges who ordered Dawes and four accomplices — three Italians and one Briton — to pay a 30-million-euro ($34.2 million) fine.
“Far from a small-time fall guy, today we are judging men in the highest ranks of organized crime who supplied European networks,” prosecutor Isabelle Raynaud told the court during the week.
Hailing the verdict, the deputy director of Britain’s National Crime Agency, Matt Horne, describe Dawes as “one of the most significant organized criminals in Europe with a network that literally spanned the globe.”
“Dawes was prepared to use extreme levels of violence in order to further his reputation and take retribution against those who crossed him. Members or associates of his criminal group are known to have been involved in intimidation, shootings and murders,” Horne added in a statement.
The noose tightened on Dawes after Spanish police secured a video showing him bragging to a member of a Colombian drugs cartel about his ownership of the cocaine found stuffed in 30 suitcases registered to ghost travelers.
Spain extradited him to France shortly after his arrest.
Dawes had hoped to get the video dismissed on legal grounds, but a document submitted by his defense team in support of that claim turned out to be a forgery.
Dawes himself then surprised the court — and evidently his lawyers — by saying his claims in the video were “just a made-up story” intended to provoke the police into arresting him so that he could prove his innocence.
The court also passed jail terms ranging from five to 13 years on four accomplices: Britain’s Nathan Wheat, and Vincenzo Aprea, Carmine Russo and Marco Panetta of Italy.
The four were arrested after undercover officers tricked them into trying to transport some of the cocaine to Italy shortly after its arrival at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport in September 2013.
A sixth defendant, Britain’s Kane Price, was acquitted.
At the time of his arrest, Spanish police said Dawes “headed up the biggest criminal organization in Britain and Europe devoted to drug trafficking, money laundering and murder.”
He was suspected of buying large amounts of drugs from Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which is thought to run much of Europe’s cocaine trade from Calabria.
His empire allegedly stretched from Portugal, France and Belgium to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Venezuela and Mexico.
Dawes maintained that he and his family made their money from a variety of businesses in Spain, including furniture and window manufacturing, management consulting and property investments.
The cocaine found on the Air France flight from Caracas had a street value of some 240 million euros ($275 million).
The discovery caused a stir in Venezuela where the interior minister admitted the suitcases had gone through security scanners that had clearly showed the presence of drugs.
Venezuelan police arrested 25 people, including members of the military and an Air France manager.


South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

Updated 22 January 2020

South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

  • South Korea will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct

SEOUL: South Korea’s military said on Tuesday it plans to expand the deployment of an anti-piracy unit now operating off the coast of Africa to the area around the Strait of Hormuz, after the United States pressed for help in guarding oil tankers.
Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran last year prompted US officials to call for allies to join a planned maritime security mission.
While South Korea, a key US ally, will deploy its forces to the area, including the Gulf, it will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct, the defense ministry said.
“The South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit,” a ministry official told reporters, adding that the step would ensure the safety of citizens and free navigation of South Korean vessels.
The decision to divert the navy unit already operating southwest of Arabia is a political compromise that will not require fresh authorization by parliament ahead of an election in April.
The Cheonghae unit will continue with its mission while it cooperates with the coalition, the ministry said, adding that the United States had been briefed on the decision, which was also explained to the Iranians separately.
The United States welcomes and appreciates South Korea’s decision to expand the mission of its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, William Coleman, spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“This decision is a demonstration of the strength of the US-ROK alliance and our commitment to cooperate on global security concerns.”
The Iranian embassy in Seoul had no comment on the matter.
The Strait of Hormuz is a busy passageway into the Gulf, with vessels sailing through it approximately 900 times a year for South Korea, which gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East, the defense ministry says.
Sending troops to the area has been a politically sensitive issue in South Korea ahead of the election.
A survey by pollster Realmeter last week showed 48.4% of South Koreans were opposed to dispatching soldiers to the Strait, while 40.3% supported the idea.
Tuesday’s move was broadly supported by lawmakers although some said it could risk Iran ties and the safety of South Koreans in the region. A number of progressive activist groups issued a statement criticizing the decision and said they will stage a protest in front of the president’s office on Wednesday.
The Cheonghae unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, working to tackle piracy in partnership with African countries as well as the United States and the European Union.
The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, South Korea’s 2018 defense white paper showed.
Among its operations were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight suspected pirates and capturing five others in the incident.
The South Korean troops have also evacuated South Korean citizens from Libya and Yemen, and as of November 2018 had escorted around 18,750 South Korean and international vessels.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer and one of Iran’s major oil customers, stopped importing Iranian crude from May after waivers of US sanctions ended at the start of that month.