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Men who tried to smuggle ecstasy into Australia inside arm of excavator jailed

(CPS/PA)
(CPS/PA)

Six men who tried to smuggle a “colossal amount” of MDMA into Australia inside the arm of an excavator have been jailed for a combined total of 140 years, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.

Danny Brown, 55, Stefan Baldauf, 62, Tony Borg, 45, Peter Murray, 59, Philip Lawson, 61, and Leon Reilly, 50, were sentenced at Kingston Crown Court on Tuesday for their involvement in the plan to smuggle almost half a tonne of ecstasy with an estimated street value of £44 million into the country.

MDMA found in excavator
The MDMA was worth £44 million (NCA/PA)

The CPS said Brown and Baldauf oversaw the plan between June 2019 and June 2020, which involved the UK-based conspirators selling the excavator at auction to the drug buyers in Australia and arranging its shipment.

However, Australian custom authorities discovered the drugs inside the excavator at Southampton, removed them and sent the machine on, without the group’s knowledge.

Messages exchanged on encrypted phones showed how the Australian conspirators sent a picture of a hollow arm on its arrival and the group eventually realised the drugs had been taken, the CPS said.

Colette Moore, specialist prosecutor at the CPS, said: “This case involved a colossal quantity of MDMA, with an estimated street value of £44 million, which posed a huge risk to the health and well-being of the Australian public.

MDMA found in excavator
The MDMA was found hidden in an excavator (NCA/PA)

“Excellent work from the Australian authorities identified the drug concealment in the mechanical arm of an excavator and prevented its onward distribution.

“Collaborative international working with our Australian partners has resulted in the successful prosecution of the men who had exported these drugs to the Antipodes.”

The CPS said investigators used EncroChat phone messages to demonstrate how many of the defendants were aware that MDMA had been concealed in the excavator.

It added that they were able to link Brown to his phone through a photo of his French bulldog, which he sent to one of the other members of the group.

Danny Brown set a picture of his dog which he sent to one of the other conspirators (CPS/PA)

Baldauf sent a photo of his location and unwittingly captured his own reflection on his way to meet Brown, the CPS said.

Brown and Baldauf were arrested by National Crime Agency (NCA) officers in June 2020 and further investigation led to the remaining defendants’ arrests in the following months.

Ms Moore said: “The use of encrypted EncroChat phones failed to prevent the organised criminals being identified and prosecuted.

“In fact, the messages established, beyond doubt, that these men were responsible for the drug export to Australia.”

Baldauf was sentenced to 28 years in prison, Brown was handed 26 years, Lawson 23 years, Borg 15 years, Murray 24 years and Reilly 24 years.