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Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Andrew Pritchard the ‘fixer’ behind Britain’s largest ever drugs smuggling operation


09:22 |

Customs and Excise in London had labelled Andrew Pritchard the ‘fixer’ behind Britain’s largest ever drugs smuggling operation - half a ton of cocaine, “enough to keep London’s clubland snorting for months”.Held behind bars for 18 months, doing time for a crime he insisted he did not commit, Pritchard was subsequently exonerated. He was allowed to walk away from Her Majesty’s prison with all charges formally dropped against him. And that, he says, was the start of his transformation.

Andrew Pritchard signing a copy of his book. (Photos: Joseph Wellington)
Pritchard chronicles his experience in the no-holds-barred novel, Urban Smuggler, a book which will be made into a film, with some of the scenes shot on location here in Jamaica.“Oh yes, I was a smuggler,” Pritchard admits without reservation, in an interview the day after the local launch held recently in the gardens of the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel.His smuggling escapades, however, were limited to Cuban cigars and those of the counterfeit variety - never cocaine or any such drug, he emphasises, his British accent sounding thick.Born in Britain to a Jamaican mother who migrated to that country in the 50s, in the book, Pritchard says that his introduction to smuggling came as a child on his return trip from Jamaica to England. He recalls wondering why the suitcases he and his sister were taking home were so heavy.
“When our suitcases were opened, they revealed dozens of bottles of white rum. I remember being amused, if not shocked. This, then was to be my first experience in smuggling.”And, if smuggling is to be defined as taking steps to import a legal substance without paying the customs and excise duties, then Pritchard here has quite casually opened a can of worms. Which traveller can honestly say they have never tried to ‘hide’ an item from the prying eyes of Customs officials in order to avoid paying duties? So, does that make us all smugglers? (Those of you without sin cast the first stone.)The author guilelessly recounts his chequered past - starting out in 1988 as a promoter for ‘warehouse parties’ - illegal, all-night events - through to 2004 when he became intimately involved with the Cuban cigar smuggling ring. The Foreword says it all. “Andrew was known to the police and the underworld from early 1980s when he was at the centre of the rave scene which transformed youth culture and drug use in the UK.”So, making strides in his career, Pritchard finds more lucrative ways to earn a living. “We brought top-end Cuban cigars and found a way to circumvent the excise and duties, which were ridiculously high at the time,” he told the Observer. “We later started smuggling counterfeit cigars through Cayman into England as well,” he added
And, crucial to the success of this smuggling enterprise was the Fast Team of Customs officials on Pritchard’s payroll, whose job it was to send through his containers of cigars without them being searched.It was while on his way to pick up one such sealed container that Pritchard’s neatly stacked deck of smuggling cards came tumbling down. He was arrested and charged with smuggling half a ton of premium grade cocaine with a street value of $100m, as that was what was allegedly found in the container, not cigars.The nightmare which followed saw a court case which cost nine million pounds, two hung juries and a final acquittal.
Surely the stuff of which books and films are made. And also the stuff from which the smuggler-turned-author made tons of cash. (”Oh, yes, smuggling was quite a lucrative enterprise,” he told us.)Casting is now being done for the international feature film


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