Picture: AFP/DOUANES FRANCAISES
Picture: AFP/DOUANES FRANCAISES
Image: -

Paris — Briton Robert Dawes, believed to be one of Europe’s biggest drug traffickers, went on trial in Paris on Monday, accused of importing 1.3 tons of cocaine into France.

The drugs, stuffed in 30 unregistered suitcases, were discovered in 2013 after an Air France plane arrived at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport from Caracas.

Dawes, 46, was arrested in November 2015 at his luxury resort in Benalmadena, Spain, after police intercepted a conversation in which he reportedly claimed ownership of the cocaine, with a street value of €240m.

Extradited to France shortly after his arrest, he has denied the charges of drugs trafficking which follow investigations launched in 2007 into alleged links to the Italian mafia and South American cartels. Dawes is on trial alongside two other Britons and three Italians, who risk up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to €7.5m.

At the time of his arrest, Spanish police said Dawes “headed up the biggest criminal organisation in Britain and Europe devoted to drug trafficking, money laundering and murder”.

The Air France shipment caused a stir in Venezuela where the interior minister admitted the suitcases had gone through security scanners that had clearly showed the presence of drugs. Venezuelan police arrested 25 people, including members of the military and an Air France manager.

Dawes was also being probed in the Netherlands over a wave of murders there in 2014 and 2015, allegedly aimed at taking control of cocaine trafficking in several European countries, police said.

From his base in Andalucia, he is suspected of importing “furniture from China and fruit containers from South America which he would fill with large quantities of cocaine”, and his cartel also shipped heroin from Turkey and Afghanistan to Britain, Spanish police said.

Dawes mainly used shipping containers to move the drugs around, but also lesiure boats and commercial flights such as the Air France one, they added.

He allegedly would meet regularly with representatives of South American crime empires, including the notorious Medellin cartel, at hotels in Madrid. He is also accused of buying large amounts of drugs from Italy’s secretive ’Ndrangheta Mafia, which is thought to run much of Europe’s cocaine trade from Calabria.

Dawes’s alleged criminal empire stretched from Portugal, France and Belgium to Turkey, the UAE,Pakistan, Venezuela and Mexico.

His suspected right-hand man, Dutch citizen Emiel Brummer, was arrested in April 2016 on Spain’s Costa del Sol and extradited to the Netherlands.

Dawes’s trial is set to run until December 21.

AFP