Belfast Telegraph

Baron 'hammered' streets with drugs

A leader of a gang that spent 15 years importing vast amounts of drugs into the UK to fund their lavish champagne lifestyles has pleaded guilty to smuggling cocaine and cannabis.

Philip Baron, 57, was a kingpin in an international ring who owned yachts and sports cars as well as luxury villas in Spain, all funded by drug money.

At Liverpool Crown Court he admitted three counts including conspiracy to import cocaine between March and November 2008, conspiracy to import cannabis between September 2005 and September 2009, and money laundering. He will be sentenced on June 14.

The former HGV driver from Salford, who was living in Ireland near five-star golf resort the K Club, had fought extradition to the UK for two years but was brought back in November 2012. He and his associates ran a smuggling operation that police say was in the top 10 biggest ever uncovered in Britain.

While authorities in Ireland thought he ran a company which rented deckchairs in Spain, he was actually a key figure in the international drugs importing ring.

The gang smuggled around 52 tonnes of drugs over 15 years and laundered millions of pounds of their illegal profits.

Running the operation while living abroad, they used ingenious methods including hiding drugs in pieces of machinery and in the back of a safe to smuggle them into the UK. The same methods could then be used to get their cash profits out of the country. Prosecutors now plan to try to seize his assets.

Steve Baldwin, head of investigations from Soca, said: "There's no doubt Baron and his associates were operating at the top end of organised crime. He lived a lavish lifestyle abroad, portraying himself as a legitimate businessman, while orchestrating the importation of huge amounts of drugs into the UK.

"There is clear evidence that his criminal activity was having a direct impact on communities in many of our towns and cities. He recruited people whom he could trust to perform specific roles and moved drugs and cash around in a business-like fashion.

"Baron thought he was untouchable but we were able to work closely with partners, both here and overseas, to completely dismantle the crime groups he was linked to."

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