Mastermind gets 23 years in BBQ drugs bust

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A 59-year-old Cypriot man was jailed for 23 years on Monday after pleading guilty to his involvement in the biggest drugs bust in Cyprus or Australia when 628 kilos of ecstasy smuggled in BBQs were seized in 2019.

The case involved a large cargo of ecstasy hidden in 200 Cypriot-made barbecues, which was seized in Sidney after intelligence received from Cyprus police alerting it had left Limassol port in a container ship.

In its decision, the Limassol Criminal Court said this was a case involving the largest seizure of drugs to come before a Cyprus court.

“It was a large operation involving the import and export of a great number of drugs, with Cyprus serving as the transit point for the traffickers.

“The accused had contributed to the completion of the whole operation,” the state legal services said.

The 628 kilos reportedly had a street value of about AUD 25 mln (€15.5 mln), while the incident attracted international media attention over the creative plot to smuggle the pills.

The 59-year-old accused had pled guilty to the export and possession of the drugs.

Evidence against the man emerged after a 32-year-old accomplice admitted his involvement in the case and testified against the 59-year-old.

Several months ago, the 32-year-old pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to four years in prison, later admitted to the witness protection program.

In his voluntary testimony, the 32-year-old reportedly said the 59-year-old had revealed he had smuggled a large quantity of drugs to Cyprus by boat and that he had help from another person.

Allegedly, the drugs arrived in Cyprus on a sailboat on March 29, 2019, under the instructions of the 59-year-old, to be later placed in 200 Cypriot-made barbecues and exported to Australia.

Australian authorities in 2019 had announced the arrest of two men, a 30-year-old local man from Queensland and a 33-year-old Canadian national, for allegedly smuggling the drugs into the country.

The confiscation of ecstasy is the largest quantity of this type of drug seized in 2019 in Australia and the largest quantity of drugs in a case involving Cyprus.

Australian police had seized and swapped the MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, for an inert substance and delivered the barbecues to a warehouse in Sydney, where they stayed for more than three months in late October 2019.

The aluminium barbecues were gradually shipped to another warehouse in Sydney, where they were prepared for distribution.

The investigation also involved the UK National Crime Agency.