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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 16:00 GMT
Colombian cocaine barons jailed
Jesus Anibal Ruiz-Henao (left) and brother-in-law Mario Tascon
Ruiz (L) and Tascon helped bring tonnes of cocaine into Britain
Two Colombians who ran one of the biggest UK cocaine networks have been jailed for 19 and 17 years.

Ex-asylum seekers Jesus Anibal Ruiz-Henao, 45, and Mario Tascon, 32, of Hendon, London, admitted conspiracy to supply drugs and money laundering.

After a lengthy investigation, more than half a tonne of cocaine was recovered. The cartel is said to have imported 1bn of the drug in a decade.

Thirty-two other people have admitted or been found guilty of offences.

Dozens of arrests were made in autumn 2003, mostly in London. There have also been convictions in Colombia, with the total sentences across all of the investigations adding up to 350 years.

Ruiz and Tascon both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs at a hearing last year.

They also both pleaded guilty to money laundering, for which Ruiz received 10 years and Tascon nine years - to run concurrently.

They pay other people to carry out the dangerous work where an arrest is more likely
Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith

Ruiz and brother-in-law Tascon's 50-strong gang was considered to be the country's biggest cocaine ring by detectives, with conduits to every major city.

The breaking of the ring followed a joint four-year investigation between the National Crime Squad and the Colombian authorities. Scotland Yard ran a parallel inquiry into the money laundering side of the business.

Detectives say as many as 20,000 people may have worked for the cartel receiving money in Colombia, wire transferred back in payments of 500, or taken by couriers carrying notes swallowed in condoms.

The linked investigations led to 60 arrests and the seizure of 3.5m in cash, as well as the half-tonne of cocaine, and a tonne and a half of cannabis.

Details of the cocaine network could not be revealed until the end of all the associated cases on Friday.

These restrictions were lifted when the last of the suspects admitted, at Southwark Crown Court, an offence of helping another to retain the benefits of drug trafficking.

Rare catch

The masterminds were both from Pereira, Colombia, and arrived in the UK in 1990, being granted indefinite leave to remain after claiming asylum.

The authorities estimate that their cartel, at its peak, was bringing a tonne and a half of cocaine into the country a year.

More than 3m of assets have been confiscated from the gang, who used ingenious methods to hide their illicit cargo.

Cocaine was moved by couriers or packed into pallets on lorries, with mustard used to distract sniffer dogs.

The drug was also hidden in fruit and clothing, dissolved into liquids, and ingrained within plastic.

Sentencing the pair on Friday, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith said those who ran the drugs industry were "very rarely caught".

Wilmer Ospina Castano (left) and Jose Manuel Rojes Pineda
Castano (L) and Rojes were among 30 people linked to the case

"This is because they pay other people to carry out the dangerous work where an arrest is more likely," he said.

"Their fingerprints are not found on the drug packaging, no telephone is shown to have made relevant calls, nothing incriminating is found in their homes.

"Others carry out their tasks. Meanwhile they make enormous profits from this foul trade."

Other convictions

Other members of the ring to be sentenced include Wimar de Jesus Ospina Castano, 35, of Tottenham, north London and Jose Manuel Rojes Pineda, 35, of Rotherhithe, south east London, each jailed for four years in May last year for money laundering.

William Ruiz Henao (left), and Ramon Navarro
William Ruiz Henao (L) and Navarro were also jailed

A raid on a lorry in Thurrock that recovered 72kg of cocaine led to the jailing of William Ruiz Henao, 33 - Jesus Anibal's younger brother - of east London, and Ramon Navarro, 39, from Almeira in Spain, jailed for 16 years and 18 years respectively for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.

Roque Garcia Martinez, 31, also from Almeira, and Ivan Garcia Ospina, 31, of Haringay, north London, were jailed for 13 and 16 years respectively for the same offence.

The parallel investigations have also led to the admission of offences or conviction of a further 26 people.

See undercover video surveillance of the operation


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