A GROUP of “highly sophisticated criminal conspirators” from Yorkshire who imported £13m of illegal synthetic drugs into the country from India and China has been jailed for a total of more than 40 years.
Ringleader John Halliday, from Bingley, set up the smuggling operation in 2010 when the “legal highs” he had been selling as a sideline to his main body-building supplement business were classified as class B substances, making it illegal to import, sell, or possess them.
The drugs were imported from China and India, through Greece and Germany. Complex financial arrangements were put in place to disguise money moving from the UK to China to pay for the purchase.
Police say a network of recipients was created in the UK, meaning postal addresses were provided for the receipt of the drugs.
While Halliday remained in overall control, Paul Arabskyj, from Wakefield, provided finance and banking for the scheme. They were among 16 defendants sentenced at Leeds Crown Court yesterday.
Police are still hunting for Halliday and issued a warrant for his arrest in October after he failed to attend a scheduled court appearance.
His last known address is in Beckwithshaw, Harrogate, but he is thought to have left the country and may have flown to the Philippines.
He was sentenced to 10 years in jail in his absence for conspiracy to supply a controlled drug and conspiracy to contravene the Customs and Excise Act, while Arabskyj was jailed for six years. Other defendants were given jail or custodial sentences, though some were suspended, after two earlier trials.
David Holderness, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This was an industrial-scale importation of class B drugs destined for the streets of our region and very probably beyond.
“We were dealing here with highly-sophisticated criminal conspirators who had developed a global network of contacts in order to import these illicit drugs and distribute them on our streets and in our communities.
“Thankfully their operational network has been exposed and the conspirators will serve lengthy sentences in jail as a result of their crimes. We’ve worked closely in liaison with West Yorkshire Police throughout this complex case in order to put a clear and detailed case before the court.
“The sentences the defendants have received today send out a clear message that the importation of dangerous, illegal substances into this country will be robustly prosecuted.”
Detective Inspector Neil Hollis, of West Yorkshire Police, praised the force’s largest ever probe into the importation and supply of synthetic drugs.
He said: “Halliday took the decision in 2010 to engage in illegal activity and what has resulted is a multi-million pound drug smuggling operation involving a number of his associates.
“These synthetically produced drugs, such as the types seen in this investigation, are illegal Class B drugs and their distribution and sale when prosecuted will result in lengthy custodial sentences.”