Dailymail.co.uk LONDON – These are the first pictures of the alleged drug smuggling gang arrested after the seizure of £50million worth of cocaine on a private jet flown from Colombia to the UK. The five men – two Brits, two Spaniards and an Italian – were held after half a tonne of the class-A drug were allegedly found in their luggage. Three – Brit bricklayer Martin Neil, Italian chef Alessandro Iembo and Spaniard Victor Franco Lorenzo, are said to have travelled to Bogota for two days in December before returning with the other two men late last month to allegedly pick up the cocaine at a five-star Marriott hotel. Colombian authorities have confirmed a fake police officer helped ensure the drugs left the country. Today it emerged the pretend cop was allowed to inspect the suitcases where the cocaine was found despite turning up alone in an unmarked vehicle with a police jacket that was too big for him and a dog that didn’t match the type normally used by anti-drugs squad officers.
A private contractor responsible for security at local airport hangars including the one the plane left from, is under investigation. It was also claimed Italian organised crime group the Ndrangheta, linked to the murder of designer Gianni Versace, may have had involvement. Last Monday’s cocaine seizure, described by the UK’s National Crime Agency as a major blow to organised crime was one of the largest flown into Britain by plane in recent years. The five suspects have been named as brothers Martin James Neil, 48, and Stephen John Neil, 53, from Poole in Dorset, Italian Alessandro Iembo, 28, from Bournemouth; and Spaniards Victor Franco-Lorenzo, 40, and Jose Ramon Miguelez-Botas, 55. They were remanded in custody till March 1 after appearing at Uxbridge Magistrates Court last Wednesday charged with importing cocaine. Respected Colombian newspaper El Tiempo said bricklayer Martin Neil had spent two days in Colombia after jetting to Bogota on December 8 from Portugal with fellow suspects Alessandro Iembo, who comes from the Calabrian city of Cotrone, and Victor Franco Lorenzo. It was not clarified how they reached Colombia on that occasion. The alleged involvement of the Ndrangheta, one of the world’s richest and most powerful organised crime groups, in the failed cocaine smuggling operation emerged as the allegations emerged about a fake cop who is alleged to have helped ensure the drugs left Bogota’s El Dorado Airport.
Colombia’s Defence minister Luis Carlos Villegas said on Friday a man posing as a police officer to carry out ‘routine searches’ on the private jet’s cargo, gave it the go-ahead to leave the country. Colombia’s National Police director Jorge Nieto confirmed: ‘We have footage of a fake police officer with a supposed sniffer dog. ‘We are advancing in our investigation to determine the structure of the gang behind this operation and identify those responsible. ‘There has obviously been a security breach at El Dorado Airport and we are looking at all aspects of security.’ The owners of the hangar in Bogota the jet left from insisted today/yesterday (MON) they were victims just like the plane’s Austrian owner Tyrolean Jet Services. Fabio Humar Jaramillo, legal representative of Central Charter S.A., said: ‘We fulfilled all international, national and internal protocols for these type of flights. ‘The passengers described themselves as businessmen. The jet they arrived in is a two-engined aeroplane that does transcontinental flights worth more than £40 million. ‘There are very few planes like this in the world and none in Colombia. We’re talking about the sort of plane someone with Bill Gates’ wealth might use.’ The five suspects arrested by UK police reportedly spent just 30 hours in Colombia, leaving Bogota at 6pm local time on January 28. Police in Bogota have obtained CCTV footage said to show men leaving the arrivals terminal at El Dorado Airport in the Colombian capital with 13 suitcases and taking a taxi. CCTV showing individuals arriving at their hotel near the airport is also in the hands of local investigators probing the theory the cocaine was picked up in a room there and taken away in the 15 suitcases confiscated by UK police on Monday.
The hotel has been named locally as a luxury Marriott Hotel a ten-minute drive from the airport thought to be the Bogota Marriott Hotel. The Ndrangheta is believed to operate in at least 13 countries outside Italy including the UK and Colombia. Clans in London are said to be active in money laundering, catering and drug trafficking. Crime-fighting organisation Europol described the Ndrangheta as ‘among the richest and most powerful organised crime groups at a global level’ in a 2013 report. There are suggestions the July 1997 murder of Gianni Versace on the steps of his magnificent Miami mansion was a mob hit, and claims he had links to the Ndrangheta crime group stretching back to when it collected protection money from his mum’s dressmaking business in southern Italy. Serial killer Andrew Cunanan, a male prostitute, was identified as the gunman after he was found dead on a houseboat near the Versace mansion eight days later having shot himself in the dead. Conspiracy theorists pointed to a dead dove found near the designer’s body as a sign it was a mafia hit. The police maintain the bird was the victim of being hit by a stray bullet fragment in the shooting. The mafia hit claims first surfaced in 2010 after disclosures from two mob hit men Giuseppe Di Bella and Filippo Barecca alleging Cunanan had been framed for the murder. The disclosures were contained in a book about the mafia by respected Italian investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi. The theory was rapidly dismissed by both the police and Versace’s family. The designer’s incensed brother Santo was quoted at the time as saying: ‘Gianni never had anything to do with the Ndrangheta. ‘The only crime my brother was guilty of was spending his money freely which I often remonstrated with him about.’
The brother of one of the suspects currently languishing in jail in the UK, dad-of-one Jose Ramon Miguelez-Botas, 55, from Valladolid, northern Spain, spoke of his shock after learning of last week’s arrests. Hairdresser Ruben Miguelez-Botas insisted the hair salon owner had told his family he was going to the UK for a short holiday and never mentioned spending time in Colombia. Stephen Neil’s ex-wife, Thai bride Ratklaw Neil, insisted: ‘I’ve seen the reports on the news but it can’t be right. ‘What do you think he did? Did he fly the plane? Did he pack the suitcases? I can’t believe it’s true.’