A Kiwi drug smuggler extradited to Britain has been jailed for his key role in a multi-million dollar European-wide narcotics conspiracy.
Truck driver Franciscus Maria Schaapveld, 61, fled to New Zealand after allegations he smuggled more than $11 million of amphetamine and cocaine into the United Kingdom.
But in August 2013, Interpol in Wellington confirmed with UK authorities that Schaapveld, a dual citizen, was living in Christchurch and working as a driver for Fonterra.
The UK successfully pursued his extradition through the New Zealand courts despite Schaapveld claiming a return to face charges would be "oppressive".
Now, he's been sentenced at Manchester Crown Court to four years and six months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to evade the prohibition on the importation of Class A and B drugs.
Operation Penshurst was launched in 2012 to investigate the activities of a criminal network that used their extensive knowledge and expertise in the European haulage industry to smuggle cash out of the UK and import drugs.
On April 21, 2012, an HGV driven by Schaapveld, purportedly carrying plastic pellets, was stopped by UK Border Force officers as it returned from Holland and Belgium.
A search of the lorry revealed a "very sophisticated" compartment in the roof of the trailer hiding 160kg of amphetamine and 6kg of cocaine, which Greater Manchester Police say was destined for the streets of the northwest of England, with street value of more than
£6 million ($11.7m).
Schaapveld claimed that he had no knowledge of the drugs. He maintained that they could have been concealed in his trailer roof when he made a stop in Holland and had walked to a nearby HGV dealership to collect securing straps whilst his legitimate cargo of plastic pellets was being loaded. The distance he claims to have walked is estimated to have been an 8km round trip.
"In addition to Schaapveld's ludicrous verbal explanation, he could not provide any legitimate paperwork to account for his visit in Holland and decision not to drive to his contracted delivery location in Belgium," Greater Manchester Police said.
"However what he did have was a huge consignment of drugs in the roof compartment of his HGV and a Dutch postcode written on his hand when arrested. When questioned about the postcode on his hand, he attempted to wipe it off and had to be physically prevented from doing so by officers."
Six weeks later, while out on bail, Schaapveld fled the UK to his native New Zealand.
After an extradition hearing at Christchurch District Court last year, he was brought back to the UK on June 27 this year.
The following day, he appeared before a Manchester Crown Court judge and was remanded into custody. A month later, he pleaded guilty.
Detective Inspector Martin Hopkinson of Greater Manchester Police serious crime division said Schaapveld had "continuously evaded police".
"When he was interviewed by police, Schaapveld lied about his movements on the continent, but detectives traced where he had been, and it became clear that he had no legitimate reason to travel to the locations that he did," Hopkinson said.
"The sheer volume of drugs that he attempted to smuggle in to the UK is astonishing, and I don't believe he thought for a second about the devastating consequences they could have had if they had reached our streets."
Four of Schaapveld's co-conspirators were convicted in 2015 and sentenced to a combined 80 years' imprisonment between them.