Unorganized Crime: Cocaine Bananas and Treacherous Cheese

Narcotics concealed in fruit, veg and chocolate, and the dealer whose love of blue cheese betrayed him to the authorities -- a common theme of food and criminality in this week’s oddities section, from OCCRP’s Daily News team.

Carl Stewart was arrested after police tracked him down from a photo of cheese he posted on an encrypted messaging service used “exclusively by criminals” (Photo: Merseyside Police, Creative Commons Licence)Carl Stewart was arrested after police tracked him down from a photo of cheese he posted on an encrypted messaging service used “exclusively by criminals” (Photo: Merseyside Police)Some of the world’s most-sought after cheeses can fetch hundreds of dollars a pound on the open market. But it’s not often a dairy product costs someone 13 and a half years in prison.

Drug dealer Carl Stewart of Liverpool, U.K., might well be lamenting his soft spot for Stilton after police were able to use a photo he posted of his favourite cheese to track him down.

Stewart had shared the image via EncroChat, an encrypted messaging service used exclusively by criminals which has yielded thousands of arrests internationally since its takedown by authorities last year, and which the dealer used to sell large amounts of narcotics under the pseudonym “Toffeeforce.”

Following the law enforcement hack against the network, police were able to access Stewart’s anonymized account, where they located the photo. Increasing the resolution of the image, which provided a clear view of the culprit’s hand, they then identified Stewart through forensic analysis of his fingerprints.

He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine, heroin, MDMA and ketamine at Liverpool Crown Court last Friday.

Meanwhile in Germany, customs authorities seized more than 4.5 kg of cocaine -- with an estimated street value exceeding one million euros (US$1.2 million) -- concealed in a container of some 1,150 bananas that had arrived from Ecuador via the Netherlands.

While at least two thirds of the original shipment of the fruit had by that point already been delivered to more than 20 supermarkets across Bavaria, authorities emphasised that no further drug parcels were found either at the warehouse or at the stores.

Similarly, a man was recently sentenced by a court in Birmingham, U.K., for attempting to smuggle £420,000 ($595,000) worth of the narcotic into the country, which he’d hidden inside 13 packages of dried vegetable chunks.

Horace Thompson, who received nine years for the offence, said he was not responsible for the shipment, claiming that he was used as an “unwitting mule” and that airport staff in Montego Bay, Jamaica, had pointedly requested that he leave his bag unlocked at check-in.

Elsewhere in the U.K., a 68-year-old inmate at Norwich prison was reportedly apprehended trying to smuggle cannabis and cocaine into the facility, which he’d concealed inside the wrapping of four chocolate bars. The culprit, Terry Levy, is apparently already serving a sentence at the prison for drug-related offences.

And finally, authorities in the Basque Country have announced the success of a sting against a narco-trafficking group that used a complex chemical process to disguise more than 862 kilograms of cocaine as charcoal.

Following an investigation that took more than a year and resulted in three arrests, police noted in their release that the group were likely to have adapted the procedure from Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, who are known to have used the same process in the past.