Published: 16:27, 28 November 2017
A Belgian pilot who threw barrels loaded with £2.5million worth of cocaine out of a circling aeroplane has been jailed.
Rudi Sels, 65, piloted a light aircraft from Belgium before dropping the Class A drugs stuffed into barrels wrapped in black duct tape over an airfield near Faversham last June.
Waiting on the ground were Jonathan Hart, 61, Michael Mealing, 42, and Andrew Barrett, 42, who used a map to plan landing and drop-off sites for the packages.
But the gang was being watched by detectives from the National Crime Agency.
Hart, Barrett and Mealing admitted their parts in the operation and were jailed for a total of 38 years in January.
The packets of cocaine had a purity of between 62 and 84%, and Sels was to be paid 500 euros per kilo - which would have earned him about 16,000 euros or £14,500.
He was arrested on October 20 this year at his home in Balen, near Antwerp in Belgium and extradited to the UK on October 31.
At the Old Bailey today Sels admitted conspiracy to import Class A drugs, and was jailed for 14 years.
Judge Mark Dennis told Sels: "You plainly played a central role in the importation of 31 kilos of cocaine.
"This was a sophisticated, carefully planned importation on a commercial scale" - Judge Mark Dennis
"This was a very sophisticated importation, carried out with obviously considerable planning and care, and also carried out swiftly and very efficiently from the point of view of the drug traffickers.
"This would have been a wholly successful importation releasing in truth far more than 31kg of powder, given the purity and the street level cutting that takes place.
"And doing so for considerable gain for the drug traffickers involved. The estimated street value is somewhere around £2.5million."
He added: "There was an expectation of substantial financial gain for you, as would be on the face of it inevitable given the nature of your contribution to this importation.
"You should be regarded as having a leading role.
"It's very sad to read your character references, which speak so well of you otherwise, and obviously harm done to those people, in particular immediate family.
"This was a sophisticated, carefully planned importation on a commercial scale."
Detectives from the National Crime Agency watched as they saw Sels fly low over one of the sites, an airfield near Faversham.
Mealing and Barrett were seen driving away in a Land Rover and were followed to a builder's site where they were arrested.
In the boot of the 4x4 were three large fuel containers which had been packaged with heavy-duty tape so it could withstand the impact of a drop from the air.
They contained 31kg of high-purity cocaine with an estimated street value of £2.5million.
They also found the trio's ordinance survey map they used to plot the drop-off points.
Barrett was later arrested at the wheel of a white transit van as he left an address in Watford and a bag containing 18kg of cocaine, nearly 1kg of MDMA, and 15kg of cannabis was found.
Together these drugs had a wholesale value of £650,000, and a street value of more than £1.5million.
Barrett, Mealing and Hart admitted importing cocaine, while Barrett also admitted possessing cocaine, MDMA and cannabis and money laundering.
Mealing also pleaded guilty to money laundering £7,000 in cash.
Barrett, Cheddington, Bedfordshire, was jailed for 16 years, Mealing, of Corsham, Wiltshire, for 12-and-a-half years, and Hart, of no fixed abode, for ten years and nine months.
Adrian Flasher, from the CPS, said: "Three men are already serving significant prison sentences for their roles in this international conspiracy to import cocaine into the UK.
"The CPS worked closely with the Belgian authorities and the National Crime Agency in order to extradite Rudi Sels back to this country to face justice for his role in the scheme.
"Faced with the compelling evidence gathered by the prosecution and investigators, Sels has today admitted his guilt and received a significant prison sentence."
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