Olof Schoon pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to sneak an estimated £1.2 billion worth of Class A drugs into Britain through Hull and Harwich using “a fleet” of specially-adapted ambulances.
The married father-of-three showed no emotion in the dock as a judge also jailed two other men involved in the 14-month conspiracy to deliver drugs to dealers in Yorkshire, Merseyside, London and the West Midlands.
Leonardus Bijlsma, who acted as Schoon’s right-hand man and used a rivet gun to conceal drugs inside ambulances, was jailed for 28 years after being convicted by a jury.
Meanwhile, Richard Engelsbel was given an 18-year jail term after admitting that he acted as a driver or driver’s mate on 25 smuggling trips purporting to be journeys to pick up injured patients.
Bijlsma’s trial was told that Schoon’s apparently legitimate firm - International Ambulance Team - owed a fleet of emergency vehicles costing 220,000 euro and was based at an office equipped with a staff canteen.
Bijlsma, 55, from Hoofddorp near Amsterdam, Schoon, 38, and 51-year-old Engelsbel, both also from the Amsterdam area, were arrested in June this year near a Dutch-registered ambulance on a car park in Smethwick, near Birmingham.
National Crime Agency officers found numerous one-kilogram “wraps” of high purity cocaine and heroin with a wholesale value of around £10 million hidden in secret compartments inside the vehicle.
Subsequent inquiries established that 44 similar trips using ferries linking Rotterdam and Hull, and the Hook of Holland to Harwich, had taken place from April 2014, including one involving a “patient” on crutches.
Sentencing the men at Birmingham Crown Court, Judge Francis Laird QC said: “The Dutch financial investigation found that the conspiracy was operated in the same way as a legitimate business, with records and invoices kept.
“Paperwork was created to give the impression that the income of the business came from insurance companies who were paying out on policies that covered travellers for illness and accidents.
“Having heard evidence over a number of days, I am satisfied this was a highly sophisticated, meticulously planned and well-executed conspiracy involving the importation of Class A drugs on a truly colossal scale.”
Ruling that the drugs brought into Britain probably had a street value of between £1 billion and £1.2 billion, the judge told Schoon: “I am satisfied you put together a team of conspirators.
“You therefore played a leading role in the conspiracy’s formation and execution.”
The judge said Schoon - who also ran firms named Schoon Investments and International Cab Services - would have received an even longer sentence if he had not admitted his guilt.
Judge Laird told the former taxi driver: “There may have been others involved in this conspiracy, perhaps at your level or even higher.
“That does not diminish the importance of the leading role that you played. You set up this conspiracy and you controlled it.”