Jailed grocer who hid cocaine in crates of pomegranates must pay back £400k

A drug baron’s top lieutenant who used his Covent Garden fruit and veg business to disguise a cocaine-smuggling ring must pay back more than £400,000 or face extra years in jail.

John Fowler, 61, was the front for the operation that saw at least £5 million of drugs ferried from Greece to the UK among crates of pomegranates and watermelons.

He was the right-hand man to Kevin Hanley, once one of Britain’s most wanted men and described as a “top, top man” in the cocaine trade.

The drugs gang was smashed in 2012 after months of surveillance on Hanley led investigators to Fowler’s greengrocer business in Covent Garden.

Hanley had previously been an accomplice of Brian Wright, the drug trafficker known as the Milkman because he always delivered. When Wright was jailed last year, Hanley assumed his position.

Using Fowler’s legitimate but failing business — Fowler’s PCC Ltd — Hanley transported vast quantities of Venezuelan cocaine by lorry across Europe and into the UK.

The drugs were concealed among crates of watermelons and pomegranates, as well as strawberries, cauliflower, and broccoli.

Acting on a tip-off, officers raided Fowler’s flat in Chelsea and found £2.5 million of cocaine, £200,000 of amphetamines, £61,000 of skunk cannabis, and more than £2 million in cash.

Hanley’s girlfriend, Chrysi Minadaki, a well-known TV presenter in Greece, was in charge of sourcing the fruit and vegetables used to disguise the lorryloads of drugs. She was jailed for 16 years for her role in the operation, while another of Hanley’s lovers acted as his secretary.

Hanley, who had homes in Kensington and Fulham, went on the run with Minadaki when the drugs ring was smashed in 2012, but was caught when police swooped on an Irish pub in Athens as he watched the British and Irish Lions rugby team beat Australia.

He has since been ordered to pay back more than £2 million or face another nine years in prison. Fowler was sentenced to 16 years behind bars in 2014, and appeared at the Old Bailey yesterday for a confiscation hearing.

Judge Joseph ordered him to pay back £416,739 of profits he had gained through the drugs trade.

Fowler, who appeared in court via videolink from prison, is planning to sell a flat in Bermondsey to settle the debt, and will face an extra four years in prison if he does not produce the money in time.

The judge also imposed a serious crime prevention order on Fowler, allowing him to be monitored when he is released from prison.

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