A drugs gang smuggled more than £4m worth of cannabis into Manchester – inside boxes of grated cheese.
The five men, all from Oldham, conspired in the shipping of just over 400kg – nearly half a tonne – of high-potency ‘skunk’ from the Netherlands.
The drugs run was organised in a Whatsapp group titled ‘Road Trip’ – and funded by Liverpool gangsters.
However the plot turned to farce when the address the smugglers planned to have the drugs delivered to refused to take the load and the innocent lorry driver rang the police, a court heard.
Mohammed Kashmiri, 29, from Oldham was the ‘organiser’ of the plot, William Blake, prosecuting, told Manchester Crown Court.
He flew to the Netherlands in February 2016 to make arrangements for the importation of the drugs along with his henchmen Waqhar Ashraf, 28 and Hamzah Awan, 27.
They then set off on a journey from Europe to Morocco, believed to be the original source of the drugs, to make payment.
But the plot unravelled after their ferry was delayed and they missed their flight.
They had to draft in another man, Urfan Asghar, to meet the morning delivery of drugs at a wholesalers in Openshaw .
But, because the consignment had not been ordered by the wholesalers – who had nothing to do with the plot – they refused to unload it.
Asghar abandoned the consignment and the suspicious lorry driver called the police.
Officers found 406kg of drugs concealed by a ‘cover load’ of grated cheese, with a street value of up to £4 million.
Ringleader Kashmiri arrived back in Manchester at around 2pm the same day, and pulled up at the wholesalers with his driver Zain Sohaib, 24, only to find police cars at the scene.
Manchester Crown Court heard the gang feared reprisals from the ‘gangsters’ in Liverpool the drugs were due to be shipped onto – Kashmiri even told Sohaib to film police on their phone to prove they hadn’t stolen them.
Kashmiri was later arrested in Deeside, North Wales, after his friends reported to police that he’d been kidnapped. The others were arrested later.
All five denied a charge of conspiracy to evade prohibition of controlled drugs at a lengthy trial at Manchester Crown Court which concluded last month, but were found guilty.
Kashmiri, of Werneth Hall Road, Oldham , and Asghar, of Howardian Close, Oldham, were both sentenced to eight years behind bars.
Ashraf, of Harrow Ave, Oldham, was jailed for five-and-a-half years.
Awan, of Tunstall Road, Oldham, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.
And Sohaib, of Coppice Street, Oldham, was jailed for two-and-a-half years.
Dominic D’Souza, defending Kashmiri, said he was a respected father and husband who had previously ‘contributed to his community.’
Sentencing, Judge Martin Steiger QC said Kashmiri, who has a fraud conviction, had acted ‘deviously and dishonestly’ in the past.
But he added: “It is a tragedy a man who has talent and intelligence should become involved in criminal activity like this.”
Passing sentence, Judge Martin Steiger QC said: “It was only by chance that the police became involved, when the lorry driver who had been unwittingly carrying the load called them and it was discovered. This was a professional and skillful importation achieved with guile.”
Speaking after sentence, Jon Hughes, of the National Crime Agency, said there had been a ‘determined and concerted attempt’ to import a ‘huge amount’ of drugs.