Drugs gang leader caught out by beer picture

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Members of an organized crime group responsible for supplying Class A drugs have been jailed for nearly four decades.

The leader of a criminal gang overseeing a £9million drug operation has been sentenced to 15 years in prison – and he was captured by a picture of him drinking beer in his garden.

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Detectives searched thousands of chat lines sent between four members of the group on the EncroChat encrypted communications network, which law enforcement agencies dismantled in the summer of 2020.

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The photo sent by Leon Atkinson that led to police identifying him

News revealed the group’s operation

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It sparked the UK’s largest law enforcement operation to date, codenamed Venetic.

The news revealed how the men arranged for the purchase and transport of several kilos of cocaine – with Abdul Ghafar, 46, directly involved in the transfer of four kilograms and at least £6.5million, and traffickers Adam Marsden, 37, and Nathan Powell. 31, procurement and delivery of more than 40 kg class A drugs.

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Police discovered an image of Atkinson drinking beer in his garden during the coronavirus lockdown, which was sent from his device to a top member of another drug gang, confirming he was running the drug conspiracy.

Also involved in the venture was Romiz Ahmed, 39, who – despite not having an Encro phone – was convicted of money laundering for the gang, totaling at least £1.9million over the three months.

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The four men have been in prison for almost 40 years

Four of the five men have since been arrested.

Atkinson, Marsden and Ghafar all admitted conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and conspiracy to transfer criminal property.

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Atkinson, of Brindley Close, Atherton, was sentenced to 15 years in prison; Marsden, of Taunton Avenue, Rochdale, was sentenced to nine years and eight months in prison; and Ghafar of Halifax Road, Nelson, was imprisoned for eight years and eight months.

Powell, of Cheney Close, Openshaw, pleaded guilty to the same offenses and will be jailed later this week.

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Ahmed, of Rossall Road, Rochdale, has been sentenced to six years in prison after being found guilty of conspiracy to transfer criminal property by being involved in an agreement involving the acquisition, safekeeping, use or the Easier control of criminal property.

“It was an extremely sophisticated drug gang”

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To date, more than 2.5 million assets, including luxury jewelery and vehicles, have been seized in Greater Manchester as part of Operation Venetic.

Since July 2020, over 200 people have been arrested by police and more than 150 of them have been charged with drug, firearms and money laundering offences.

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Det Insp Roger Smethurst said: “This was an extremely sophisticated drug gang who effectively distributed large quantities of cocaine throughout the North West. They were not ashamed to benefit from flooding communities not only with illegal substances, but the misery, violence, and deprivation that come with it.

“Some of the people convicted here are some of the high profile organized criminals operating in Greater Manchester and demonstrate once again the unprecedented damage we – as law enforcement – can do to multi-million pound gangs through EncroChat.

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“It is clear that no criminal is untouchable and no unscrupulous person is safe from detection; Organized crime is one of our top priorities at GMP and we continue to do what we can to rid our streets of the drugs, gangs and violence that are tearing communities apart.”

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