A gang of cocaine smugglers carried £50million of the drug into the UK on a private jet after claiming they were flying out to Colombia to meet singer Bruno Mars, a court heard today.
The men allegedly flew to South America and paid a private jet firm £128,500 in cash claiming that they had made their fortune in cryptocurrency and were involved in the music business.
But Woolwich Crown Court heard seeing Bruno Mars perform and meeting him afterwards was a front for an international drug smuggling ring carrying tonnes of cocaine into Britain.
Subsequent checks revealed the singer had been in the South American country at that time - but there is no suggestion he was involved in any cocaine plot or any evidence they were at his gig or met him.
Bricklayers and brothers Martin Neil, 49, and Stephen Neil, 53, both from Poole, Dorset, allegedly imported 513 packages of the class A drug with a £50million street value packed inside 15 suitcases on the flight from Bogotá between October 30, 2017 and January 30, 2018.
The Neil brothers are accused of involvement in the smuggling plot alongside Italian Alessandro Iembo, 28, and Spaniards Jose Miguel-Botas, 56, and Victor Franco-Lorenzo, 40.
This is the private jet the gang allegedly used to fly in tonnes of cocaine from Colombia to the UK
Jurors heard Iembo, Martin Neil and Franco-Lorenzo had made an initial three day trip to Bogota leaving on December 8, last year.
When booking the private jet for that trip, the woman who paid the man who ran Diamonte Jets - a chartered jet service provider - gave him £128,500 in cash for three passengers.
Ms Maylin said: 'She said they were leaders in the field of cryptocurrency, they were involved in the music industry and that her clients would be meeting Bruno Mars in Colombia.'
Subsequent checks revealed the singer had been in the South American country at that time.
As part of the booking, it was also asked that a luxury chauffeur driven Rolls-Royce Phantom car collect the men upon their return to Farnborough.
The gang is accused of using a Bruno Mars gig as cover for a flight to and from Colombia +10
The gang is accused of using a Bruno Mars gig as cover for a flight to and from Colombia
It was to take them to an address in Bromley, south east London.
Jurors heard when the three men returned to the UK on December 11, they landed with a number of suitcases but it cannot be said for certain what was in the luggage as they were not stopped.
The court heard that even with the associated costs of the importation, the profit from the racket was set to be in excess of £50million.
Opening the case prosecutor Kerry Maylin told jurors: 'That's what this case is about. A huge importation of 513 blocks weighing about a kilo each of cocaine.'
The court heard the men travelled together in the private jet, at a cost of £138,500, from London Luton airport on January 26 this year.
The cabin crew later remarked to police that the amount of luggage seemed excessive for a three-day trip.
Three days later they arrived at Farnborough Airport in Hampshire, having allegedly flown in from Colombia's capital, Bogota.
They had with them 15 suitcases which were opened by Border Force officials at Farnborough.
Ms Maylin said: 'As they were opened individually, on the top some of them had some dirty children's clothes, some had some female clothes - not very many because in the main body of those suitcases were wrapped blocks of cocaine hydrochloride, each individually wrapped in about 1kg weights.'
Alessandro Iembo, 28, +10
Alessandro Iembo, 28,
Victor Franco-Lorenzo +10
Jose Ramon Miguelez-Botas +10
Jose Ramon Miguelez-Botas
Iembo claimed to the officer that the blocks of cocaine were books.
He would later claim to police that he and the others were in Bogotá to do charity work for One Young World.
One Young World has done work in Colombia before but not at the time of this trip, jurors heard.
Iembo said it was an 'all-expenses paid trip' but he didn't know who had booked it.
Ms Maylin said: 'Mr Iembo denied all knowledge of the drugs and claimed he thought the bags contained paperwork.
'Five relatively ordinary young men with no real charitable experience are employed by a charity for trips to Bogota.
'One Young World do not know who they are so what were they doing in Bogotá?'
The charity said they have never employed someone with his name, the court heard.
Franco-Lorenzo merely said 'oh, cocaine' when the illicit drugs were discovered in his bags.
Franco-Lorenzo later told police he thought he was going to the Caribbean on holiday.
When asked if he had ever been arrested before, Martin Neil replied: 'not yet.'
15 suitcases which were opened by Border Force officials at Farnborough Airport when the gang arrived +10
15 suitcases which were opened by Border Force officials at Farnborough Airport when the gang arrived
Jurors were told that when analysed, the cocaine was found to have a purity of 79%, and the average weight of each block was 997 grams - around 500kg in total.
'The value, wholesale, was £15,390,000, but on the street, you can imagine, much much more,' said Ms Maylin.