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Organised crime group who conspired to import £11m of cocaine hidden in shipment of bananas jailed

|News, International and organised crime , Drug offences

Four men have been jailed a combined total of 62 years for conspiring to import 139kg of cocaine into the country hidden in a shipment of bananas.

The CPS prosecuted Robert Ball, 59, Mirgent Shahu, 32, Arman Kaviani, 37 and Florjan Ibra, 30, following an investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA). The offenders were all charged with one count of conspiracy to evade the prohibition on the importation of a controlled drug.

In April 2022, a refrigerated shipping container full of bananas arrived in London from Ecuador. Hidden in the roof of that shipping container was 139kg of cocaine, with a street value of £11 million, which was to be sold in the UK.

Ball, the owner of a haulage company, played a significant role in the operation. He used the cover of his business, and his connections within the industry, to locate the container with the drugs and persuade the owner of the containers to allow him to retrieve the container from the port. He then arranged the transport of the container to a storage yard in Coventry.

Shahu also played a significant role in the conspiracy and was trusted to oversee the removal of the drugs from the container in Coventry.

Ibra had a significant operational role and liaised with those involved on the passage of the shipment in the days prior to its arrival. He was driven by Kaviani to the storage yard in Coventry and both were seen by officers on the roof of the container, forcing open the top with a crowbar, and removing the consignment.

Florjan Ibra (left) and Arman Kaviani (right) seen on top of the container removing the consignment with a crowbar before being arrested
Florjan Ibra (left) and Arman Kaviani (right) pictured on top of the container removing the consignment with a crowbar before being arrested

Ball and Shahu were both overseeing the recovery of the consignment at the storage yard. 

All four of the offenders were arrested at the storage yard.

The CPS also charged Kaviani with a further count of possessing a controlled drug of class A with intent to supply after 3kg of crystal meth, with a street value of £500,000, was found at his home address on 15 April 2022.

Caroline Hughes, Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS, said: “The offenders in this case were involved in a sophisticated criminal operation to import a significant amount of cocaine into the UK.

“The supply of drugs is motivated by greed. It is a lucrative business for those involved. It has disastrous consequences for those using drugs, their families and the community: a vast amount of crimes affecting the public are committed by users to pay for their habits.

“The CPS worked closely and effectively with the National Crime Agency to dismantle their dangerous operation, by building a strong case and bringing all of the offenders involved to justice.

“We will be pursuing confiscation proceedings against Robert Ball to recover the money he made from his criminality."

NCA Operations Manager David Phillips said: “Ball and Shahu oversaw the nuts and bolts of this conspiracy on behalf of the organised crime group behind it.

“This group enlisted the assistance of Ibra and Kaviani, who they hoped would retrieve the drugs and make their efforts worthwhile.

“Unfortunately for these men, NCA officers were watching their every move before moving in to arrest them.

“Cocaine fuels violence and exploitation, including gang culture and firearm and knife crime in the UK and around the world.

“Removing this consignment from circulation will have been a sizeable blow to this criminal network, preventing them from generating profits that would have been invested in further criminality. We are determined to dismantle major international crime groups like this one from top to bottom.”

Ball, of Hale Barns, Manchester, and Shahu, of Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, were convicted by a jury at Warwick Crown Court on 26 May 2023, they both appeared at the same court on 1 November 2023 where they were both sentenced to 18 years imprisonment.

Kaviani, of Golders Green, London, and Ibra, of Barking, London, both pleaded guilty in 2022 and were sentenced on 4 August 2023, to 12 years and 9 months and 13 years and 6 months respectively.

Notes to editors

  • Caroline Hughes is a Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS’ Serious Economic, Organised Crime and International Directorate (SEOCID)
  • Robert Ball (DOB: 02/12/63) was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment on 1 November 2023
  • Mirgent Shahu (DOB: 17/02/91) was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment on 1 November 2023
  • Arman Kaviani (DOB: 27/07/86) was sentenced to 12 years and 9 months imprisonment 4 August 2023
  • Florjan Ibra (DOB: 10/03/93) was sentenced to 13 years and 6 months imprisonment 4 August 2023

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