36-year-old Dion Lee was arrested in Lagos, Nigeria in September 2011, under the power of an international arrest warrant after three years on the run from police. His extradition in May 2012 by Lancashire Police officers, in partnership with the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and the Nigerian Drugs and Law Enforcement Agency, was the first ever extradition of a UK citizen from Nigeria.
Appearing at Liverpool Crown Court today he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs; conspiracy to supply cannabis; conspiracy to transfer weapons and conspiracy to transfer ammunition. He was then jailed for 24 years.
Lee’s arrest was the 28th and final arrest in connection with Operation Greengage, a Lancashire Constabulary investigation into the importation of cocaine, cannabis, firearms and ammunition into the United Kingdom. The operation was led by the force’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit.
The main subject of the initial investigation was Ivan Hue, of Robin Street, Preston. Further inquiries uncovered a network of couriers transporting funds to Amsterdam to pay for drugs that would then be imported into the UK. During numerous trips between the two countries, drugs and firearms were smuggled into the UK via specially modified vehicles.
As the investigation progressed, an extensive organised crime group operating across England, Scotland and Europe was identified, with couriers importing high purity cocaine stored internally. The cocaine was sourced direct from Bolivia and transported to the UK via Argentina and the European mainland.
Lee was the mastermind behind the scheme, heading up the Netherland’s based organised crime gang and linking in with the gangs in Preston and Scotland.
27 other gang members from Preston, Lancaster, Leeds, Surrey and Poland have been jailed for a total of 348 years. Lee’s sentence brings this total to 372.
Detective Inspector Martin Kane, Lancashire Constabulary, said: “Lee’s guilty plea and subsequent sentencing brings to conclusion an operation that began in 2006 and which has completely shattered a large, sophisticated crime group, spanning the UK, South America and mainland Europe.
“In doing so we have prevented untold quantities of drugs and firearms being brought into Lancashire and indeed the rest of the country. Had those drugs and firearms been allowed to infiltrate our local communities, the consequences could have been incredibly serious.”
He added: “Operation Greengage highlights the determination of Lancashire Constabulary in bringing these people to justice. It has taken years of hard work from a dedicated team of officers, as well as the CPS, to build a strong enough case to secure the conviction of Lee and his associates.
“This case should serve as a warning to people who commit organised crime – whether you commit your crime in Lancashire or elsewhere, if it affects the law abiding people of Lancashire we will find you and you will be caught and punished.”
Drug and firearm smuggling on a huge scale
The Crown Prosecution Service notes that from Autumn 2006 to Spring 2008, the defendants were part of an organised crime group that imported drugs, firearms and ammunition from mainland Europe and South America into England and Scotland and were supplying towns and cities across the UK including the North West.
The gang smuggled firearms and large quantities of cocaine in hidden compartments in vehicles and some of the defendants acted as human couriers or drugs mules to bring the cocaine into the country. Dion Lee who is originally from Lancaster, was one of the senior figures in the conspiracy and organised shipments of drugs and firearms mainly through the vehicle smuggling route from his base in the Netherlands.
He fled to Nigeria in an attempt to evade capture and a European arrest warrant was issued for his arrest.
Joanne Cunliffe CPS Crown Advocate for the North West Complex Casework Unit said, “Dion Lee was one of the main organisers of this large drugs operation. He went to great lengths to evade capture and probably thought he would not be found in Nigeria, but Lancashire police has remained determined to track him down and the CPS has been determined to bring him before a court to face these charges.
“His guilty plea towards all charges today is the final piece in the complex jigsaw of this case to convict 28 people for their part in this organised crime is a measure of how committed we and the police are to cracking down on those who try to profit from smuggling drugs and firearms onto the streets of our towns and cities.”