A married British couple of Indian origin, Arti Dhir, 59, and Kavaljitsinh Raijada, 35, were found guilty of leading a drug-smuggling operation and exporting more than half a tonne of cocaine from the United Kingdom to Australia.
The illegal operation was exposed by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
Officers traced the consignment back to Dhir and Raijada, who had set up a company, Viefly Freight Services, as a front for smuggling drugs. Both defendants had been directors of the company at different points since its incorporation in June 2015.
The NCA investigation showed that the 514 kg of drugs, valued at £57 million, were transported via a commercial flight from the UK to Sydney in May 2021 in six metal toolboxes.
In the UK, a kilo of cocaine at wholesale is priced at around £26,000 per kilo but in Australia, the same amount sells for £110,000. Cocaine prices in Australia are substantially greater than in the United Kingdom, making illicit shipment even more profitable for Dhir and Raijada.
Raijada’s fingerprints on the plastic wrappings of the metal toolboxes, along with receipts for the purchase of the toolboxes, were crucial pieces of evidence linking the couple to the crime.
BRITISH-INDIAN COUPLE HAD OVER £3 MILLION IN CASH
The UK’s NCA said that the couple had used their knowledge of airport freight procedures, gained from their previous employment at a Heathrow flight services company, to facilitate their illegal activities.
The couple were arrested in June 2021.
During the trial at Southwark Crown Court, London, Dhir and Raijada denied the charges of exporting cocaine and money laundering.
However, the jury convicted them on 12 counts of exportation and 18 counts of money laundering.
The couple is scheduled to be sentenced, following the conviction, at Southwark Crown Court, on Tuesday (January 30).
The couple were found in possession of gold-plated silver bars, £13,000 at their home, and £60,000 in a safe deposit box. Subsequent investigations uncovered nearly £3 million in cash hidden in a storage unit in Hanwell (UK), rented by Raijada in his mother’s name.
BRITISH-INDIAN COUPLE BOUGHT £8,00,000 FLAT, LAND ROVER
Financial enquiries disclosed that the couple had purchased a flat in Ealing, London, for £8,00,000 and a Land Rover for £62,000, despite declaring minimal profits to His Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
The NCA is set to initiate Proceeds of Crime proceedings to seize the couple’s assets.
“Arti Dhir and Kavaljitsinh Raijada used their insider knowledge of the air freight industry to traffic cocaine worth tens of millions of pounds from the UK to Australia, where they knew they could maximise their revenue,” said Piers Phillips, a Senior Investigating Officer at the NCA.
“They kept their illicit profits in cash at their home and in storage units, as well as purchasing property, gold and silver in an attempt to hide their wealth. These defendants may have thought they were removed from the misery caused by the drugs trade, but their greed was fuelling it,” Investigating Officer Phillips added.
“The NCA worked closely with our partners in Australia and UK Border Force to dismantle the supply chain created by Dhir and Raijada and bring them to justice,” Investigating Officer Phillips further added to outline the collaborative effort between British and Australian agencies,
Detective Superintendent Peter Faux, Commander of the New South Wales Police Force Organised Crime Squad (Australia), commended the international collaboration, noting, “Serious and organised criminal networks often have no borders, which is why working collaboratively with our international counterparts is so important to tackle what is a global issue.”