A lorry driver charged in connection with a suspected £5m cocaine seizure is a religious convert who believed he was transporting Christian tracts, a court has heard.
Terence Bean (62) was among three men charged in connection with the largest ever recovery of the class A drugs made in Northern Ireland.
The cocaine was confiscated from a vehicle near the Boucher Road in south Belfast on Saturday.
Bean, who lives in Malaga but with an address at Sparrow Street, Oldham, was charged with being concerned in the supply of class A drugs, conspiracy to supply, possession and possession with intent to supply.
His co-accused Terence Telford (38), from Wolfhill Road, Belfast, faces the same charges. A third man, Michael Reeves (28), of Carrick Hill, Belfast, is accused of conspiracy to supply cocaine.
All three were remanded in custody at Belfast Magistrates’ Court.
A barrister for Bean told the court his client had worked as a lorry driver across Britain and Europe for the past 15 years. Paul Bacon said the accused claimed to have undergone a religious conversion just over a year ago.
The court heard that at one stage Bean was approached by a Belgian man while sleeping by the side of the road in France. According to the lawyer, he introduced himself as belonging to an organisation called the Brothers and Sisters of the Lord.
Bean agreed to a request to take religious tracts to Northern Ireland, the court was told.
Mr Bacon said further contact was made by another man claiming to represent the same religious group, with Bean given a parcel at a business park in Lancashire last Friday night.
He was allegedly told someone from the organisation would take the package from him when he got to Northern Ireland.
“He makes the case he didn't know in any way, shape or form what was in that package,” Mr Bacon said.
The court heard Telford described as a self-employed mechanic who runs his own vehicle recovery business.
Reeves' solicitor Niall Murphy stressed that he strenuously denied the criminal allegations against him.
Mr Murphy described the evidence linking his client to the case as “incredibly flimsy”.
However, District Judge Fiona Bagnall remanded all three suspects in custody to appear again via video-link on January 18.