AN OAP couple were jailed for eight years todaY after being found guilty of trying to smuggle £1m of cocaine into Europe on a luxury Caribbean cruise.
Three judges convicted retired chef Roger Clarke, 72, and his ex-secretary wife Sue, 71, of drugs trafficking after a one-day trial at Lisbon’s main criminal court.
They were told they will serve their sentences in Portugal instead of being kicked out of the country and sent back to Britain to do their jail time as a state prosecutor had requested.
The pair were arrested on board cruise liner Marco Polo on December 4 2018 after Portuguese police acting on a tip-off from Britain’s National Crime Agency discovered nine kilos of cocaine hidden inside the lining of four suitcases Roger had been handed on the sunshine island of St Lucia.
The former Bromley, Kent-born chef told the court he had no idea the cases had drugs inside and was taking them back to the UK for a friend called Lee who had promised to pay him £800 and bragged he could sell them for a massive profit at Harrods.
He said UK-based Jamaican businessman ‘Lee’ and another associate called Dee, who he named in court as George Wilmot, had asked him to help negotiate the import of exotic fruit during Caribbean cruise stopovers and he brought the suitcases back for them as a sideline.
State prosecutor Manuela Brito rubbished his court claim he had been “betrayed” by people he trusted and insisted the Brits were drug mules who used the four cruises they took to South America in two years as a front for their crimes.
And she questioned how they could pay for the cruises costing around £18,000 when they survived on a joint monthly pension of £1,150 they had to pay rent of £445 from.
Mr Clarke, who said after his arrest Lee paid for the last trip but at trial claimed they had paid through “savings from hard work,” gave a cabin steward one of the old suitcases the couple boarded the Marco Polo with at the start of their cruise in Tilbury, Essex, and gifted the other two to the unidentified man he claimed handed him the new holdalls.
Northampton-born mum-of-three Sue admitted in court she had been with her husband when they took two of the four cases containing the drugs onto their cruise ship, but insisted she only knew her husband’s business associates socially and never accompanied him when he negotiated fruit sales.
Mr Clarke confirmed in court they had both served prison sentences in Norway after being convicted in 2010 for trafficking 240 kilos of cannabis resin, claiming he had done a first drugs run to clear debts and was made to do more with his wife as cover after being threatened with violence by gangster paymasters if he stopped.
Roger, who was born Roger Button but changed his surname to Clarke after finishing his prison sentence, was jailed for nearly five year and Sue for three years nine months.
The expat couple lied to friends in Guardamar del Segura near Alicante where they lived and were the life and soul of local bars and members of a golf club, by telling they had served time in prison for cigarette smuggling.
They were warned ahead of last Tuesday’s trial they faced up to 12 years in jail. The crime they were convicted of carries a prison sentence of four to 12 years in Portugal.
They have already served nine months in custody which will be taken into account when fixing their release date.
Portuguese police insisted in court the couple had not cooperated by giving the information they needed to identify the criminals paying them to do drugs runs.
It is not known if British police or other crime-fighting agencies have managed to identify the men Mr Clarke pointed the finger at.
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Although the street value of the nine kilos of cocaine the couple were caught with was initially put at £2m, experts later valued it at around half that.
Portuguese prosecutors say they believe the Clarkes were making between £18,000 and £26,500 plus exes per cruise they took so they could smuggle drugs into Europe.