Page last updated at 19:53 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 20:53 UK

Smugglers, a speedboat and a sting

By Ben Ando
BBC crime reporter

Paul Stromberg (left) and Paul Clough
Paul Stromberg and Paul Clough will be sentenced later
The big yellow truck slowly pulls into the dockside loading area, a white speedboat gleaming on the flat-bed trailer.

Across the yard, an undercover agent is filming with a hidden camera.

It is January 2007, and UK agents from Soca - the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, suspect the boat might be hiding a guilty secret - hundreds of kilos of high purity cocaine.

False deck

The boat had been bought by Briton Paul Clough in October 2006.

He and Paul Stromberg, a businessman from Abergavenny in Gwent, had travelled to Venezuela on what they claimed were fishing holidays.

But on a previous occasion, a routine check at Manchester airport revealed traces of cocaine on Clough's possessions.

And in March 2007, when the Venezuelan national guard ran an X-ray over the boat, the 'Samantha', they found a lot more - 337kg (743lb) of pure cocaine worth around 40m on the street.

The cocaine was hidden in a secret compartment under a false deck.

Police believe the plan had been to ship the speedboat first to Portugal, and then to retrieve the drugs.

In the UK, Clough realised something was wrong. He sent a series of frantic emails to the warehouse owner asking why the Samantha had not been sent.

Cocaine recovered from yacht
The cocaine was seized before the yacht left Venezuela

When arrested, Clough admitted plotting to commit international drug trafficking offences.

Stromberg claimed he had been duped; and had no idea what was in the boat, but the jury was told that he, Clough and two other men were watched having an "animated" discussion in the car park of a restaurant in Reading days before Clough was arrested.

When the jury foreman gave the guilty verdict, Stromberg's wife and son sobbed and hugged each other.

His solicitor told the BBC they were disappointed with the verdict and would consider whether there were grounds for any appeal.

Rarely used charge

The case represents a welcome boost for Soca, which has been criticised for being long on managers and short on results.

Alison Saunders, Director of the Crown Prosecution Service's Organised Crime Division said: "The charge of conspiracy to commit an offence outside the United Kingdom is rarely used in this country in other than terrorism cases.

"[It] reflected an innovative approach on the part of the CPS Organised Crime Division to this type of criminality.

"It reflected the actions of the defendants in conspiring in the United Kingdom to commit to a course of conduct in a foreign country which would be an offence in both jurisdictions."

Clough and Stromberg will be sentenced together at a date to be fixed.


SEE ALSO
More charges over 15m drugs haul
08 May 08 |  England
Cocaine haul worth 15m is seized
05 May 08 |  Cumbria
Child car seat used to hide drugs
22 Feb 08 |  Tayside and Central
1.65m drugs haul found on beach
12 Feb 08 |  North West Wales

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