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Taxi drivers jailed for their part in £9million cannabis drugs plot

Three taxi drivers used as couriers by a Vietnamese businessman have been jailed for their role in a £9.1 million drug smuggling empire.

Sunder Ahuja, Amrik Lamba and Abdul Shirzad ferried nearly a ton of cannabis to Plymouth, Devon, from West London.

Kingpin Tam Tran made a total of 89 trips to the town, hiring the trio to drive him there and back. 

Police in Plymouth snared the smuggling gang when a Ford Galaxy, being driven by Lamba and transporting Tran, was stopped and £52,600 in cash was found.

Vietnamese businessman Tam Tran who was jailed for six years

Amrik Lamba (left) one of the taxi drivers jailed today and Tam Tran (right) who was found in a car carrying more than £50,000 in cash

The Vietnamese had just handed over 9.8kg of cannabis to Plymouth ringleader Nicholas Doyle. 

After seizing the cash, they also raided a Vauxhall Zafira driven by another member of the ring, Peter Stewart, 40, of Efford, Plymouth, who told police there was ‘sh**loads’ of cannabis in his car.

Prosecutors said that they believed roughly 910kg of cannabis was transported by the gang, with a street value of around £9.1million. 

Judge Ian Lawrie said drivers Ahuja, Lamba and Shirzad ‘chose money over the fact that they were participants in a serious crime.’ 

The drugs ring were jailed for smuggling nearly a ton of cannabis from London to Plymouth

The drugs ring were jailed for smuggling nearly a ton of cannabis from London to Plymouth

He added: ‘Their clear good qualities and responsibilities did not inhibit their offending. 

‘These are men with children and responsibilities as parents and they therefore should have known better than involve themselves in a drug supply arrangement whereby drugs and all their attendant misery were being shipped to Plymouth.’

Judge Lawrie ordered that £64,460 seized from the smuggling operation will be donated to local charities.

Ahuja, 48, of Southall – who made 48 trips with Tran to Devon – and Shirzad, of Hounslow – who made five runs – both pleaded not guilty of conspiracy to supply a Class B drug but were convicted in November.

They were both jailed for six years at Plymouth Crown Court. Lamba, of West Drayton, who made a total of 38 trips to Plymouth, was jailed for two years and four months after admitting his part in the plot.

The court heard Lamba has two disabled children, at least one of whom will have to go in to care during his prison stint.

His lawyer Nick Hewin, said: ‘This is undoubtedly involvement through naivety to make like more bearable for a family struggling on so many levels.’ 

Ahuja, a married father of three, told the court he grew up in Afghanistan and was kidnapped in his 20s, and a ransom had to be paid for his release. He sought political asylum in Britain in 1995.

His barrister Andrew Lloyd-Eley, submitted 22 pages of character references to the sentencing hearing and called two live witnesses, including his 17-year-old daughter, to speak on the defendant’s behalf.

He added: ‘He is a man who has dedicated himself to helping others almost his entire life.’ 

Francesca Whebell, representing Shirzad, who made just five drugs runs, said he ‘never questioned’ Tran about his long trips. He to had fled Afghanistan to Britain.

He said he was the carer for a baby and an older child because his wife was suffering from post natal depression.  

 ‘These are men with children and responsibilities as parents and they therefore should have known better

Judge Ian Lawrie during sentencing 

Tran, who refused to give his age to the court and was said to be living in rented accommodation in Paddington, west London, was jailed for six years.

Doyle, of Efford, was given a five year and six month sentence. Stewart was jailed for two years and four months, while 30-year-old accomplice Paul Marr, of Mutley, was given a 15 month term, suspended for two years. He will also have to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £1,000 costs.

Det Sgt Jason Kelly, the officer in charge of the investigation, said: ‘It is only a matter of time before most people are caught and ore likely than not you are going to get a prison sentence.

‘This was a large scale conspiracy. There may be a lot of cash involved but if you get a prison sentence, it is difficult to buy that time back.

‘I think this sentence sends a message in that anyone who contemplates getting involved in a conspiracy of that sizes faces at least two years in custody.

‘Police get comments that we are wasting their time looking at a Class B drug but we see with organised crime gangs when this amount of money is involved is that there is not a single strand of criminality.’