Leeds & West Yorkshire

Men jailed for flower box cannabis smuggling plot

From left to right: Johannes Elmendorp, Arie Menno van Esch and Terence Koetsier
Image caption All three men were extradited to the UK to face trial

Three men have been jailed for their part in an operation importing cannabis with a street value of up to £150m into the UK.

The drugs, which were destined for West Yorkshire and the West Midlands, were brought into the UK during 2008 and 2009, hidden inside boxes of flowers.

Police traced the shipments to storage units in Leeds, Bradford and Redditch.

The Austrian organiser of the UK operation was jailed for 18 years after a trial at Leeds Crown Court.

Johannes Elmendorp, 51, of Vandans, Austria, was also banned from accessing, importing or exporting to the UK.

'Staggering' amount

Terence Koetsier, 22, of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, who was responsible for taking delivery of most of the shipments in West Yorkshire, was sentenced to two years in prison.

Arie Menno van Esch, 30, of Wijk en Aalburg, The Netherlands, who organised the delivery of flower boxes, was jailed for six years.

Five other men were cleared by the jury.

Image caption Police said 102 deliveries were made to the UK

West Yorkshire Police said the investigation had begun after it had received reports of suspicious activity at one of the storage units in Morley, Leeds.

Officers seized cannabis with an estimated street value of £6.8m during raids on the units.

The force said it believed the gang organised a total of 102 deliveries to the UK with an estimated weight of 16.8 tonnes, equating to £150m.

Det Ch Insp Michael McDermott, of West Yorkshire Police's crime division, said: "This is a staggering amount of drugs which we believe has been able to enter the UK.

"This was a complex investigation which involved working closely with West Mercia Police and the Dutch and German authorities.

"The use of covert tactics and information sharing between law enforcement agencies proved to be the key to smashing this international criminal drugs gang and bringing the offenders to justice."

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