A lorry driver previously convicted in France for trying to smuggle migrants into the UK has been sentenced following a cocaine seizure earlier this year.
Serhii Tukalo, 39, from Smila, Ukraine, became the subject of a National Crime Agency investigation after Border Force stopped his lorry at Dover’s freight terminal in May.
An x-ray of the lorry uncovered anomalies in the load – which was air compressors and pressure washers from factories in Northern Italy.
On closer inspection, officers found 20 kilo blocks of high purity cocaine wrapped and hidden in boxes holding equipment. If sold in the UK, the drugs would have been worth in the region of £1 million.
Tukalo was arrested on suspicion of importing Class A drugs, but maintained that he had no knowledge of how the drugs arrived in the vehicle.
A number of other items were seized which provided evidence for the NCA investigation, including two phones and a sim card holder with a sticky note attached featuring details of a UK phone number.
Paperwork was also recovered which showed Tukalo had been convicted in France in 2021 for attempting to smuggle two Albanian migrants into the UK in the cab of his lorry.
Forensic experts downloaded his phone data and found images of UK and Ukrainian bank notes. The NCA argued that the exchange relates to a known system between drug and cash couriers whereby each recipient would be able to present the exact note in person to prove their identity.
The extra sim card belonged to Tukalo but was registered in a different name. He claimed to use the card to contact family and watch YouTube, which was discounted when data showed only two numbers had ever contacted the sim and it had never been online.
He was sentenced to 11 years in prison at Canterbury Crown Court after a jury took just two hours to find him guilty.
Derek Evans, NCA Operations Manager, said: “Tukalo saw an opportunity to exploit his professional services as a haulier to import a significant quantity of Class A drugs into the UK and avoid detection.
“However through effective processes at our borders, his vehicle was identified. His defence was dismissed by the jury within a short time frame, such was the evidence presented to the court. This sentence should serve as a deterrent to others who may seek to exploit our borders who may face the same fate.”
21 November 2022