It's been a quietly historic end to the week. Two men have been handed a collective 42-year prison sentence, after being found guilty of possessing and transporting the biggest haul of class A drugs in UK history, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).
On Friday, Mumin Sahin and Emin Ozmen, both from Turkey, were convicted of smuggling £500 million worth of cocaine on a route that allegedly started in Guyana before taking in Istanbul via Tenerife, ending in the North Sea. Coke load aside, that sounds more like a pleasant sailing holiday than a journey that's going to cost Sahin and Ozmen each at least 20 years of their lives.
The two men were sentenced in Glasgow, since their coke boat was stopped by the Royal Navy, Border Force and NCA in waters about 100 metres off the coast of Aberdeen, back in April 2015. Sahin, 47, was identified as captain of the ship with 51-year-old Ozmen his first mate.
"You were involved in a most serious operation of commercial scale involving the transportation of cocaine by ship, in an operation which crossed international and indeed intercontinental boundaries," said the judge, speaking in Glasgow's High Court on Friday. Fair enough.
Sahin and Ozmen had been found guilty back in July of this year. Their original plan seemed to involve cramming about three tonnes of cocaine into a nifty little hatch aboard tugboat MV Hamal. A tip-off from French customs intelligence agency DNRED combined with intel from the UK's National Maritime Information Centre to nudge the NCA in the direction of the boat, according to the crime agency's own account. Once intercepted – as part of an effort literally codenamed Operation Screenplay – a search uncovered the drugs in the hull of the boat.
Naturally, the NCA were chuffed. A load of drugs of this size is exactly the sort of morale boost the agency would want, after coming under scrutiny last year. A legal case surrounding the NCA's use of unlawful search warrants led to a High Court judge labeling the agency as "ignorant", "incompetent" and "remarkably ill-informed" last May. In November 2015, the NCA launched an internal inquiry into its use of warrants as a result.
In this case, it was all back-slapping and congratulations for the force. "Today's sentencing is the culmination of a truly international investigation into a seizure that was unprecedented in its scale for Scotland, the UK and Europe," said NCA officer John McGowan on Friday. "By making this seizure and putting these men behind bars not only have we protected the public but we have also caused major disruption to an international organised criminal network."
Sahin and Ozmen were both first offenders, who the court heard had worked in shipping since they were in their teens. Their lawyers argued they were glorified mules, caught up in much bigger crime organisation's web, and the judge acknowledged that captain Sahin was "not at the top of the drugs tree". In any case, Sahin was sentenced to 22 years in prison and Ozmen to 20 years. Their families haven't seen either man since they were taken into custody in April 2015.
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