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A British drugs kingpin has been jailed over a plot to smuggle 1.3 tonnes of cocaine with a street value of 240 million euro (£216m) into France.
Robert Dawes was described by the National Crime Agency (NCA) as “one of the most influential and feared organised criminals in Europe” after he was sentenced to 22 years on Friday.
The 46-year-old, from Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, was convicted of drug trafficking offences after the cocaine was found stashed in 20 suitcases on an Air France flight from Venezuela to Paris in 2013.
© PA Dawes has been jailed for 22 years in France
Dawes, who denied the charges, was heard in secret recordings bragging to a member of a Colombian cartel about his involvement in smuggling the drugs from Venezuela’s capital Caracas.
He was arrested in 2015 when officers swooped on his mansion in Benalmadena, a town in the Costa del Sol, Spain, where they found guns, cash and encrypted phones, the NCA said.
His network was said to span Europe, South America, the Middle East and Asia, using corruption, violence and intimidation to exert control, while his associates are suspected of shootings and murders in the UK and abroad.
© PA Officers found guns, cash and encrypted phones at Dawes’ property in the Costa del Sol
Dawes was accused of buying large amounts of drugs from Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which is thought to run much of Europe’s cocaine trade from Calabria.
He was extradited to France shortly after his arrest and tried by five judges who ordered him and four accomplices to pay a 30 million euro (£27m) fine.
In his final statement at the Paris court hearing on Friday, Dawes said: “I continue to claim my innocence.”
© PA Dawes was extradited to France after his arrest in 2015
Dawes had hoped to get the recording of him dismissed on legal grounds, but a document submitted by his defence team in support of that claim turned out to be a forgery.
He told the court his claims in the video were “just a made-up story” intended to provoke the police into arresting him so that he could prove his innocence.
Following his conviction, Dawes was told he would have to serve at least 15 years without the chance of parole.
The discovery of the cocaine in 2013 caused a stir in Venezuela after a government minister admitted the suitcases had gone through security scanners that had clearly shown the presence of drugs.
© PA Dawes continued to maintain his innocence before he was sentenced
Venezuelan police arrested 25 people, including members of the military and an Air France manager, over the incident.
After Dawes sentencing, NCA deputy director Matt Horne said: “Dawes was one of the most significant organised criminals in Europe with a network that literally spanned the globe.
“Dawes was prepared to use extreme levels of violence in order to further his reputation and take retribution against those who crossed him.
“Members or associates of his criminal group are known to have been involved in intimidation, shootings and murders.”