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Two men who imported £28m worth of illegal drugs have jail sentences increased

Two men who imported class A and B drugs with a street value of £28.9 million have received increased prison sentences.

Varun Bhardwaj, 39, (left) and Anand Tripathi, 61, (right) were originally sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court last December following a 71-day trial where they were found guilty of importing cocaine, cannabis and cigarettes into the UK hidden in shipments of perishable goods.

The South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SWROCU) and CPS appealed the original sentences on the grounds they were unduly lenient.

At a hearing at the Court of Appeal in London last week (20 June), the previous sentences were quashed and longer prison terms handed down to both men.

Bhardwaj’s sentence was increased from 19 to 23 years and Tripathi’s from 15 to 20 years.

SWROCU began investigating the case in April 2022 following a 999 call made to Avon and Somerset Police by a farmer near Bridgwater in Somerset who was shocked to find kilo-block packages of drugs in his normal delivery of animal feed.

The shipping container was inspected by SWROCU officers and found to contain 189 kilos of cocaine with a street value of more than £15million. The container had been shipped from Columbia to London Gateway Port.

Tatab Ltd, a customs clearing agent based in Hounslow was inextricably linked to the importation and transport of this illegal shipment. Anand Tripathi was the director and company secretary of Tatab – a company that facilitates the import and export of goods.

Varun Bhardwaj, who tried to distance himself from Tatab saying he had limited involvement with the company was found to be the operations manager and reported to Tripathi. Bhardwaj also owned and drove a Range Rover with the personalised registration plate TA07 TAB (TATAB).

Tatab was just one of a number of companies created or run by Tripathi and Bhardwaj to try to conceal their illegal activities. The pair played a game of smoke and mirrors – setting up bogus businesses and using pseudonyms in order to cover their tracks and distance themselves from the illegal imports.

In November 2022 officers from SWROCU arrested Tripathi and Bhardwaj. At the same time UK Border Force was holding another container at the Port of Felixstowe linked to the men. This time the shipment contained oranges from South Africa and on inspection 49 kilos of cocaine were discovered and seized with a street value of almost £4milliion.

The investigation, which was supported by the Metropolitan Police, UK Border Force, HMRC and the NCA, then linked the pair with a further two shipments dating back to September 2021 and January 2022 where cocaine and cannabis were hidden inside containers of yams.

In addition to the drugs, between February and October 2022 Tripathi and Bhardwaj imported three shipments of cigarettes – a total of 18,680,000 cigarettes – in containers of Bombay mix, coir fibre and biscuits, with the two men evading the £9.7milllion excise and customs duty which should have been payable.

DCI Adam Smith from SWROCU said: “We are pleased that the appeal was successful and that the discounts applied to their original sentences were reviewed.

“Both men were importing huge amounts of drugs that would have been destined for onward sale by organised criminals across the country. Working with key law enforcement partners and the CPS, we were able to evidence the true nature of their importation business and the scale they were operating at. The new sentences handed down to both men now truly reflect that.”