London, Jan 31 (PTI): An Indian-origin couple in the UK, whose extradition was sought by India on charges of the murder of their adopted son in Gujarat, has been sentenced to 33 years in prison each after being convicted of exporting more than half a tonne of cocaine to Australia.
Arti Dhir, 59, and Kavaljitsinh Raijada, 35, from Hanwell in Ealing were identified by the National Crime Agency (NCA) investigators after Australian Border Force intercepted the cocaine worth 57 million pounds upon its arrival in Sydney in May 2021, the agency said in a statement on Monday.
The couple was behind a front company that had sent the drugs by plane under a cover load of metal toolboxes, according to investigation.
Judge’s commendations were awarded to three NCA officers who worked on the case.
Dhir and Raijada denied exporting cocaine to Australia and money laundering. They were convicted of 12 counts of exportation and 18 counts of money laundering by a jury following a trial at Southwark Crown Court on Monday.
They were sentenced at the same court on Tuesday.
The drugs exported by the two had been shipped via a commercial flight from the UK and consisted of six metal toolboxes which, when opened, were found to contain 514 kilograms of cocaine.
The drugs would have been worth up to 57 million pounds when sold in Australia, where prices are significantly higher than in the UK.
In the UK, a kilo of cocaine at wholesale is priced around 26,000 pound but in Australia the same amount sells for 110,000 pounds.
Officers traced the consignment back to Dhir and Raijada, who had set up a front company called Viefly Freight Services with the sole purpose of smuggling drugs.
Both defendants had been directors of the company at different points since its incorporation in June 2015.
Raijada’s fingerprints were found on the plastic wrappings of the metal toolboxes containing the seized drugs, while receipts for the order of the toolboxes, worth 2855 pounds were discovered at the couple’s home.
The NCA’s case was that there had been 37 consignments sent to Australia since June 2019, of which 22 were dummy runs and 15 contained cocaine.
Dhir had been employed by a flight services company at Heathrow from March 2003 until October 2016.
Raijada worked at the same company from March 2014 to December 2016.
NCA investigators believe that their knowledge of the airport freight procedures was used to cover their criminal activities.
Dhir and Raijada were arrested at their home in Hanwell on June 21, 2021. and officers seized 5000 pounds worth of gold-plated silver bars, 13,000 pounds inside the home and found 60,000 pounds in cash in a safety deposit box.
Following further investigations, the pair were arrested again in February 2023.
NCA officers discovered almost 3 million pounds in cash hidden in boxes and suitcases at a storage unit in Hanwell, which Raijada had rented in his mother’s name.
Financial inquiries found they had also purchased a flat in Ealing for 800,000 pounds and a Land Rover for 62,000 pounds, despite declaring profits of only a few thousand pounds.
Investigations showed that both defendants held cash in bank accounts which far exceeded their declared income.
They had deposited almost 740,000 pounds in cash into 22 different bank accounts since 2019 and were further charged with money laundering.
The NCA will now start Proceeds of Crime proceedings against both defendants to strip them of their assets, it said.
Piers Phillips, NCA Senior Investigating Officer, said: “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.” “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,” Philips said.
“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. We will continue to target class A drugs supply and the criminals overseeing it, both in the UK and overseas,” the senior investigator said.
The murder allegations against the couple relate to their 11-year-old adopted son Gopal Sejani and his brother-in-law Harsukhbhai Kardani in February 2017 in India.
An investigation by Gujarat police claimed that the accused had hatched a plot to adopt Gopal and then insure him for around Rs 1.3 crore before staging his kidnapping and murder in India to split the life insurance payout.
India’s extradition request for the duo had been turned down by Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London in July 2019 on human rights grounds under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In February 2020, India’s appeal in the High Court in London was also dismissed. PTI HSR CK
(This story is published as part of the auto-generated syndicate wire feed. No editing has been done in the headline or the body by ABP Live.)