Cocaine gang laundered staggering £ 9 million in dirty money even during lockdown

An international drugs network peddling huge amounts of cocaine laundered more than £ 9 million in dirty money even during the height of lockdown. One drug dealer complained about how lockdown had made drug dealing difficult and vowed to move to Dubai.

“As long as I can make money that all that matter …” Adam Marsden said in one EncroChat message, the hacking of which proved to be the Greater Manchester based gang’s downfall.

Marsden, 37, as well as others including Leon Atkinson were involved in multi kilo deals of cocaine. Atkinson, 44, was described as a ‘regional’ cocaine supplier who sold on drugs imported into the UK by a contact.

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He was linked to at least 28 kilos of cocaine. Marsden was linked to 12 kilos and Nathan Powell to 13 kilos, with the pair being described as ‘distributors’ lower down the chain. Atkinson took on 13 pounds of the 30 pounds of cocaine stolen in an audacious armed robbery at the stashhouse of a notorious Liverpool gang.

Two men were seriously injured after members of the Cox crime gang struck in a meticulously planned heist. The handover of the 13 kilos took place near Manchester City’s training ground, as Powell, 33, picked up the drugs from the Cox’s courier Michael Nevin, 35, who described himself as a ‘gangster transporter’.

“In the period covered by the indictment, Mr Atkinson, Mr Ghafar, Mr Marsden and Mr Powell were part of a network of organized criminals and crime groups involved in the supply of substantial quantities of class A controlled drugs, in particular cocaine,” prosecutor Richard Wright QC said.

“Those involved in the conspiracy to transfer criminal property were involved in transferring, in the space of three months, £ 9,331,090. This was plainly a national and international operation.” The offenses were committed from March to June 2020, at the height of lockdown.

Romiz Ahmed

Two men also acted as couriers for the outfit, including ‘hard up’ taxi driver Romiz Ahmed, 39, who laundered millions of pounds worth of drugs money for crime bosses. Abdul Ghafar, 46, known as ‘Shaggyfarmer’ on the highly secretive EncroChat network, was linked to almost £ 6.5 million and Ahmed to nearly £ 2 million, Manchester Crown Court heard.

The pair ferried huge amounts of cash around the country, including from locations such as Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham and London. The law enforcement’s hacking of the EncroChat network proved to be the undoing of the drugs network.

A theme of some messages uncovered by law enforcement included Marsden complaining about the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on his drug dealing. A black BMW 425 and a black Mercedes A class were parked on the drive of Marsden’s home when they went to arrest him. The three bed property in Rochdale was in the process of being ‘completely renovated’, the court heard.

“The pair discussed how difficult it had become to move drugs during lockdown given the risks involved,” Mr Wright said, referring to Marsden’s discussions with another EncroChat user. “Mr Marsden went on to say he was planning to move to Dubai in August or September when the restrictions were lifted.”

In another EncroChat discussion, Marsden told how he ‘needed to make the jump or would be stuck in this system all his life’. “As long as I can make money that all that matter but when u got there phone can make anywhere,” he told a contact.

Abdul Ghafar

In a prescient message which Atkinson forwarded to Powell, it was suggested that EncroChat had been ‘compromised’ and that they should move their discussions onto other encrypted phones. Sentencing, Judge Nicholas Dean QC said EncroChat cases have revealed ‘a level of criminality rarely before encountered’ in terms of sophistication.

The judge said this case proved ‘no exception’, and said the £ 9 million figure represented ‘the sort of level and scale of drug dealing that was going on’. Atkinson was jailed for 15 years.

Marsden received nine years and eight months, Ghafar was sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison, while Ahmed received six years. All will serve half of their sentences in jail. Powell will be sentenced tomorrow.

The judge said Ahmed had ‘lied comprehensively’ during his trial and that he had become involved because the crimes were ‘lucrative’, not because he was ‘hard up’ as a taxi driver. Atkinson, of Brindley Close, Atherton, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to supply class A drugs.

Ghafar, of Halifax Road, Nelson; Marsden, or Taunton Avenue, Rochdale; Powell, of Cheney Close, Openshaw; admitted one count of conspiracy to supply class A drugs. All four men admitted conspiracy to transfer criminal property.

Ahmed, of Rossall Road, Rochdale, was found guilty after trial of being concerned in an arrangement which facilitated the acquisition, retention, use of control of criminal property by others.

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