(London Post – PR) Three Dutch men have been convicted for their roles in supplying up to £1.6 billion worth of drugs to organised crime groups across the UK using a fleet of fake ambulances.
An ‘ambulance company’ was set up in Hoofddorp, Holland, for running the drug smuggling operation, which involved the men posing as paramedics and using bogus patients to make their cover more authentic.
The operation was shut down following an investigation by the National Crime Agency in collaboration with the Dutch National Police in North Holland.
Leonardus Bijlsma, aged 55, from Haarlemmermeer, was found guilty of conspiracy to import Class A drugs today following a two-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court. Dennis Vogelaar, aged 28, from Haarlemmermeer, who was also on trial, was found not guilty.
Olof Schoon, aged 38, from Haarlemmermeer, who owned the company and directed the operation, and Richard Engelsbel, aged 51, from Amsterdam, pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy at an earlier hearing.
NCA officers tracked one of ambulances on 16 June 2015 after it entered the UK via Harwich Port and went to a car park in Smethwick, Birmingham. When Vogelaar and Engelsbel got out of the ambulance in paramedic uniforms and met with Schoon and Bijlsma, who had arrived in a Mercedes, officers moved in and arrested all four men with assistance from West Midlands Police.
Secret compartments behind the ambulance’s interior panels, in cupboards and under the floor contained 193 kilos of cocaine, 74 kilos of heroin, 2 kilos of MDMA crystal and 20,000 ecstasy tablets with a combined likely potential street value of over £38 million.
The drugs had been taped up with different coloured tape which correlated to a list of 20 customers found inside the car.
NCA officers were able to evidence that the company’s ambulances were used to transport drugs into the UK at least 45 times during the 14 months before the June seizure. The total street value of the drugs was estimated to be up to £1.6 billion.
CCTV footage showed that during some of the trips they stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Colchester, Essex. The four men, who arrived in an ambulance and a Mercedes, were with a bogus patient on crutches who was later visible walking around without them.
Some of the men were also caught on CCTV at an industrial unit in the Moorside Business Park, Colchester, which was often used as a location to extract the drugs from the ambulances. Bijlsma, who was Schoon’s right hand man, had the role of hiding the drugs, removing them and re-riveting interior panels.
Rob Lewin, Head of the NCA’s Specialist Operations Unit, said: “This was a highly specialist drug transportation service. By shutting it down the NCA and its partners have disrupted criminal activity across the UK. There will be some very frustrated high-level criminals out there who, given the size of their orders, will have lost a lot of money.
“The human cost of class A drug addiction is huge but these men, who made trip after trip, were motivated only by profit. We will now start to focus on stripping them of any assets.
“I would like thank colleagues from the Crown Prosecution Service and the Dutch National Police for their support in bringing these men to justice.”