Northern Ireland

£2m cocaine haul was hidden in battery packs

Rechargeable battery packs were used to smuggle nearly £2m worth of cocaine into Northern Ireland from Mexico, a court has heard.

The shipment seized in Belfast held three kilos of 82% pure cocaine.

A judge was also told the courier who delivered the package to an address in the city may have been an undercover police officer.

Details were disclosed as bail was refused to one of three men charged in connection with the haul.

Christopher Overend, 22, of Hillman Street, Belfast, faces charges of conspiracy to supply cocaine, possessing and importing Class A drugs.

It was confirmed in court that a worldwide arrest operation was continuing against those suspected of involvement.

Prosecuting counsel Conor O'Kane said: "This was a highly organised crime gang (who) undertook an audacious international importation on a massive scale."

Two large cardboard boxes addressed to co-accused Philip Devlin arrived by express mail service at a house in Sans Souci Park on May 8.

It was claimed that Overend collected them using identification provided by Devlin, 28, of Antrim Road in the city.

Both men were arrested a short time later when a taxi they were said to be in stopped at a bar on the Ormeau Road.

A third suspect, Nigerian national Abiodun Dahunsi, 35, of Mount Alverno, Ballymurphy, has also been charged.

Mr O'Kane revealed that the parcels contained 20 Black and Decker rechargeable battery packs, inside which the drugs were hidden.

"The consignment was sent directly from Mexico, which is a source country for the production of cocaine," he said.

"On Friday it was confirmed that the cocaine is 82% pure."

Due to the high level of purity, an initial estimated street value of £1m has risen to £1.9m.

Devlin allegedly agreed to collect the package, and then asked Overend to help him as a favour, the court heard.

It was claimed that the pair would be paid £1,000.

Overend told police they were collected in north Belfast by two black men, threatened and driven across the city to a parcel delivery point.

Opposing bail, Mr O'Kane said: "This investigation is at an extremely early stage, a further arrest operation and investigations are ongoing worldwide."

Defence counsel Declan Quinn argued that Overend has no links to drug dealing.

"His case is that he has been used as a pawn at the very bottom end of the chain of this transaction," Mr Quinn said.

"This is not a man who fits the profile of an international drug dealer or a criminal gang member."

Overend, whose former jobs include catering work at hotels and Parliament Buildings, Stormont lives in "messy" rented accommodation and even struggled to afford a £7 haircut, the court heard.

Mr Quinn claimed his client was asked by Devlin to help him as a favour, using a student card belonging to his co-accused in an "amateurish" arrangement to take receipt of the parcel.

"The DHL delivery driver, who may well have been a police officer, expressed reluctance to leave a package with Mr Overend who had a card that didn't have an address on it," he said.

Refusing bail, Mr Justice Treacy ruled that it would be wrong to release the accused with the investigation at such an early stage.