A photographer from California has been jailed for more than two-and-a-half years after being caught attempting to smuggle cannabis worth around £760,000 into the UK.
National Crime Agency officers began an investigation into US national Zered Akolo, aged 26 from Antioch, after he was stopped at Heathrow Airport on 16 January, shortly after arriving on a flight from Los Angeles.
He claimed to be travelling to the UK to visit university friends.
Border Force staff carried out a search of his two checked-in suitcases, finding around 47 kilos of herbal cannabis inside.
Akolo initially denied the bags were his, even though they had his name tags on them, but after being questioned by NCA investigators he was charged with attempting to import class B drugs.
Cannabis can be legally grown in many states in the US and attracts a premium price on the UK criminal market.
At a hearing at Isleworth Crown Court in west London on Thursday 16 February Akolo pleaded guilty to importing class B drugs, and a judge sentenced him to 32 months in prison.
NCA Heathrow Branch Commander Andy Noyes said: “Akolo was foolish in the extreme to think he could get away with a brazen drug smuggling trip like this. As a result he faces a long period of time away from friends and family in a British jail.
“I hope this case serves as a warning to others who would consider acting as drugs mules for organised criminal gangs – it isn’t worth taking the chance.”
Akolo’s conviction is the first following a series of cannabis interceptions made off flights from the US to Heathrow throughout January and February. At least 19 US nationals and one Canadian have so-far been charged.
Katherine Wilson, Director of Border Force Heathrow, said: “Thanks to the work by Border Force officers at Heathrow Airport, £760,000 worth of drugs were stopped from infiltrating and causing harm to our communities.
“Together with NCA and partners, we will continue to protect our borders and bring to justice those who attempt to smuggle drugs into our country."
16 February 2023