An elderly couple arrested on a luxury cruise with cocaine worth nearly $2 million used their age as a front to hide their "illicit project to make easy money", court papers claim.

Former chef Roger Clarke, 72, and his retired secretary wife Sue, 71, will appear in court in Lisbon this morning to stand trial after 9kg of the class A drug was found in their suitcases.

Court documents made public last night showed the pensioners – who are facing up to 12 years in prison – regularly went on cruises and could have been pocketing as much as $52000 each time in illicit gains.

The pair from the UK, who have been held in separate prisons in the Portuguese capital for almost ten months, were convicted and jailed in Norway in 2010 for trafficking cannabis resin.

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A damning Portuguese police report said: "There is no doubt Roger and Susan Clarke had contact with drug-trafficking organisations during two trips in 2017 and another they made in 2018. They were made to South America, to countries which were linked to the transport of cocaine to Europe.

The couple spend over $36,000 on cruises over two years. Photo / Facebook
The couple spend over $36,000 on cruises over two years. Photo / Facebook

"While they made their first trip at the beginning of 2017 by plane, they made subsequent trips on cruise ships which allowed them to carry a larger amount of drugs."

It concluded: "The age of the suspects added to the fact they were a married couple could lead one to suspect these cruises were really for fun when in truth they were part of an illicit project and their behaviour was designed just to make easy money with high profit. They could both have been making between nearly $35,000 and $52,000 plus expenses per trip."

Kent-born Mr Clarke told police after their arrest on December 4 last year that a mystery entrepreneur "of Jamaican origin" called Lee paid for their $14,000 Caribbean cruise
He claimed "Lee" asked him to pick up "empty" new suitcases in St Lucia from an unidentified middleman.

But the police report said it made "no sense" that "Lee" paid for the cruise they were arrested on when "Roger didn't even know how to properly identify him". It also claimed Mr Clarke was not able to provide police with a phone number, email or name of any import-export firms the entrepreneur was involved in.

Acting on a tip-off from Britain's National Crime Agency, Portuguese police arrested the couple at 4.50am after their cruise liner MC Marco Polo docked in Lisbon.

The couple were arrested by Portuguese police on the cruise liner MC Marco Polo in Lisbon. Photo / Flickr.com, Ronnie Robertson
The couple were arrested by Portuguese police on the cruise liner MC Marco Polo in Lisbon. Photo / Flickr.com, Ronnie Robertson

The pair were asked at the start of an hour-long search if they were carrying anything illegal and said 'No', the court papers reveal. The documents paint a fascinating picture of an elderly couple combining a seemingly run-of-the-mill lifestyle focused around bingo, golf and the occasional meal out with friends, with a remarkable number of cruises to exotic locations.

Police investigators calculated the Clarkes went on cruises costing nearly $36,000 over two years, despite a disposable monthly income after they had paid the rent on their expat home near Alicante of just $1700 a month.

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A handwritten 2018 diary seized from Northampton-born Mrs Clarke's bedside table in the ship's cabin – which was included in the court papers – featured several mundane entries. One said: "Jan 3, 5pm. Indian with Karen and Paul, April, Sean and Sean's boys."

Others included reminders about a GP appointment for Mr Clarke, a blood test for Mrs Clarke, a facial and nail manicure and nights out at bingo or Chinese and Indian meals with friends.

But mixed in with the reminders were notes which appeared to jar with the level of income flagged up by police. On January 7, 2018, Mrs Clarke wrote: "Jan 22, Santarem, Brazil, Jan 24, Manaus", and then scheduled in three days of shopping after their February 18 return to the UK.

A note in the back of the diary, relating to a cruise they never took because they were behind bars in Lisbon, said: "12 March 2019. 16 days. Fly to Havana, Cuba. Cruise to Philipsburg, St Maarten; St John, Antigua and Barbados; Funchal, Madeira; Malaga, Alicante. Approx $8,000."

Mrs Clarke told police that she had met "Lee" and his wife "Claudette" only once, during a visit to their Spanish home which she marked in her diary for June 15, 2018, after they flew from Gatwick to Alicante. She said she had no idea the suitcases her husband was carrying had drugs in them when he "showed up" on the ship with them.

The files also highlighted the couple's 2010 conviction and imprisonment in Norway for trafficking 240kg of cannabis resin.

The Clarkes are expected to protest their innocence when they appear at Lisbon's main criminal court today.

© Daily Mail