Page last updated at 17:27 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 18:27 UK

Guilty of 40m cocaine boat plot

Police footage of the cocaine being found in a boat

A businessman has been found guilty of attempting to import 300kg of cocaine with a street value of more than 40m.

Property developer Paul Stromberg, 42, from Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, originally from Manchester, tried to bring the drugs in via a speedboat.

Woolwich Crown Court heard the yacht was seized in Venezuela before it was due to be shipped to the UK.

Stromberg had admitted possessing 5kg of cocaine with intent to supply and was found guilty of drug trafficking.

The conviction was for conspiracy to commit a drug trafficking offence outside the UK, a rarely brought charge.

Another man, Paul Clough, 44, from Leeds, had earlier admitted the same charge.

Stromberg had admitted he was trying to get the boat, named Samantha, shipped to the UK, but said he had no idea the drugs had been concealed on board.

Other alleged plotters in Venezuela are also accused of being involved.

Fishing holiday

The trial in London heard Stromberg and and Clough travelled to Venezuela but Stromberg claimed his visits were for a fishing holiday.

In February of last year, undercover police in Venezuela filmed the Samantha arriving in a warehouse in the port city of Puerto Caballo.

Paul Stromberg (left) and Paul Clough
Paul Stromberg and Paul Clough will be sentenced later

Police seized the boat, and used X-ray equipment to examine it, the court heard.

They discovered a substantial number of blocks hidden in the lower half of the boat beneath a false floor.

The jury was told after drilling through the floor, they discovered 337 kilos of cocaine said to be "almost perfectly pure".

Once "cut" with other drugs it would have had a street value estimated at more than 40m.

When he was arrested, Stromberg told detectives from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), that he was a simple businessman who had property deals and catering interests.

The court heard he said: "I'm not a man of lavish means by a long shot; I struggle like the rest of us."

The men are due to be sentenced at a later date.

Speaking after the trial, Alison Saunders director of the Crown Prosecution Service's (CPS) organised crime division said the conspiracy charge was rarely used in the UK, other than in terrorism cases and reflected "an innovative approach" on the CPS' part to this type of crime.

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

"Organised crime knows no borders and we are increasingly working with partners both here and abroad to ensure that we are in a position to tackle it."

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