Two Dutch men caught hiding half a tonne of cannabis among bags of gone-off pizza cheese have been jailed.
Henrik Ruben, 28, and Dominic Leeman, 30, had tried to smuggle the drugs worth £5m in two shipments of grated cheese and salad toppings, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.
They were caught when the packages were intercepted at Dover by the Border Force in April and June 2016.
Ruben, of Dieren, was jailed for six years at Maidstone Crown Court after they were convicted him of conspiring to import drugs.
Leeman, of Arnhem, was found guilty of the same charge and was sent to prison for five and a half years.
The NCA discovered the pair were were part of a wider organised crime gang and operated two units on Slough Industrial Estate where the cannabis was to be unpacked.
They planned to repackage the cheese and ship it back to the Netherlands to be used again.
Leeman and Ruben imported the drugs through a company called Bertus Foods, also known as Global Foods, which was set up as a front for drug smuggling.
The NCA said Ruben was in charge of travel arrangements while Leeman played a key part in organising the food “carousel” of sending produce back and forth.
Encrypted phones were used to communicate, but investigators were able to access their messages and found they had discussed arrangements for transportation of the cannabis to clients.
One text asked, “do I have to put the old cheese in those boxes the product is delivered in?”.
Photos of herbal cannabis and cannabis resin on were found on Ruben’s phone, as well as pictures of a forklift truck being used to load and unload pallets of white boxes from a lorry.
Martin Grace, branch commander at the NCA, said: “This is a significant disruption of an organised crime network who were intent on bringing illegal drugs into the UK.
“The pair thought they could fool us by disguising cannabis in food shipments and giving fabricated stories to border officials. But we are ready and have tools in place to disrupt drug supply and distribution.
“The cannabis had a street value of more than £5m, which no doubt would have funded further criminality on our streets.”
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