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.


Michael Bloomberg comes under scathing attack at fiery Democratic presidential debate

Updated 20 February 2020

Michael Bloomberg comes under scathing attack at fiery Democratic presidential debate

  • Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg all lined up to go after Michael Bloomberg
  • The self-funding former New York mayor said at the debate that he was using his money for an important cause
LAS VEGAS: Michael Bloomberg faced a barrage of attacks at his first Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday, as his rivals assailed the free-spending and fast-rising billionaire over his record on race, history of sexist comments and the use of his massive fortune to muscle his way into the contest.
In a rough debate debut that gave voters their first unscripted look at the media mogul and self-funding former New York mayor, Bloomberg seemed uncomfortable and hesitant as he defended his record and argued that he is Democrats’ best chance of beating Republican President Donald Trump in November.
Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg all lined up to go after Bloomberg, who has surged in polls helped by an unprecedented advertising blitz. But they also heaped personal attacks on one another in the most contentious of the nine Democratic White House debates.
All of the contenders on the Las Vegas debate stage accused Bloomberg of trying to buy his way into the White House and said his record as mayor and businessman was not good enough to beat Trump.
“We’re running against a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians,” said Warren, a senator from Massachusetts. “And, no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump, I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
“Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another,” she added.
Bloomberg has been accused over the years of many sexist and misogynistic comments, and several lawsuits have been filed alleging that women were discriminated against at his media company.
He did not respond to Warren’s comments about his alleged remarks about women, taken from a booklet given to him in 1990 that was said to be a compilation of his sayings over the years. A campaign spokesman has said Bloomberg “simply did not say the things somebody wrote in this gag gift.”
Bloomberg, who entered the race in November and is skipping the first four early voting states in February to focus on later nominating contests in March, has risen to No. 2 among Democrats behind Sanders, according to a Reuters/Ipsos national poll released on Tuesday.
Bloomberg said at the debate that he was using his money for an important cause.
“I’m spending that money to get rid of Donald Trump – the worst president we’ve ever had. And if I can get that done, it will be a great contribution to America and to my kids,” he said.
The debate came at a pivotal time, three days before Nevada’s presidential caucuses, the third contest in the state-by-state race to find a challenger to Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
The high stakes were evident in the intensity of the exchanges, with Biden and Warren, in particular, facing the do-or-die task of reigniting their campaigns after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier this month.
“We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has who knows how many nondisclosure agreements, and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against,” said Warren, who had her most aggressive debate.
Bloomberg said there were “very few” nondisclosure agreements. “None of them accuse me of anything,” he said. “Maybe they didn’t like the jokes I told.”