‘Did he fly the plane himself…?’ Thai ex-wife laughs off claims British bricklayer smuggled £50m of cocaine from Colombia into UK on a £100,000-a-trip private jet
The ex-wife of a bricklayer suspected of smuggling £50 million worth of cocaine into Britain on a £100,000-a-trip private jet laughed off his arrest and said: ‘Do you think he flew the plane himself?’
Thai bride Ratklaw Neil defended former husband Stephen Neil, who was arrested with his brother Martin following a drugs swoop on a private jet.
Stephen, 53 and his 48-year-old brother Martin were held at Farnborough Airport on Monday after customs discovered 15 designer suitcases filled with half a ton of cocaine.
The twin-engine plane had flown more than 5,000 miles from Bogota in Colombia to leafy Hampshire.
Italian national Allesandro Iembo, 28, and Spaniards Victor Franco-Lorenzo, 40, and Jose Ramon Miguelez-Botas, 55, were also arrested.
However, 41-year-old Ms Neil, who divides her time between homes in Dorset and Thailand said: ‘I’ve seen the reports on the news but it can’t be right.
‘What do you think he did? Did he fly the plane? Did he pack the suitcases? I can’t believe it’s true.
‘Why would Stephen and Martin do anything like that? They didn’t do drugs and came from a respectable family and had money. It doesn’t make sense to me.
‘I saw them a few months ago and everything seemed fine. They seemed normal.’
Ms Neil met Stephen in 1995 and the couple later married in the Phra Khanong district, which includes Bangkok.
The couple lived in Bournemouth before they split and Ms Neil moved to the coastal town of Milford-on-Sea, in Hampshire, close to the southern edge of the New Forest.
She moved out last January and is currently living in Ratchaburi province in central Thailand.
She added: ‘Stephen and Martin are nice guys who looked after their mother when she got quite ill a few years ago.
‘She had a brain tumour but I think she has recovered from it now.’
The five suspects wore dapper suits and posed as wealthy businessmen after arriving in Colombia on the luxury jet, it was reported today.
The smartly-dressed suspects reportedly convinced officials at Bogota’s El Dorado airport they had come to the country in search of new markets in which to invest.
But they left just over 24 hours after and ‘didn’t go far from the airport’ before leaving the next day, according to a Colombian police officer involved in the investigation.
Stephen and Martin, together with Mr Iembo, Mr Franco-Lorenzo and Mr Miguelez-Botas appeared at Uxbridge Magistrates Court in West London on Wednesday charged with importing cocaine.
District judge Deborah Wright refused the brothers’ bail applications on the grounds there was a risk they would fail to surrender.
A family friend told has told how their arrest has put a lot of strain on their parents Jim and Joan, who are both aged 79 and live in the Southborne area of Bournemouth.
The friend said: ‘Joan has recently battled cancer and Jim has had his own health problems and finds it hard to walk and move around.
‘This is the last thing they need. They are a really nice couple.
‘Martin drives over to see his parents for Sunday lunch most weekends and Stephen, who lives nearby, walks round and meets him.’
‘I didn’t see them the Sunday just gone, however, which I thought was unusual.
‘Jim and Joan are very pleasant but their sons are much more stand-offish. They don’t say hello and very much keep themselves to themselves.
‘They don’t like motorists parking their cars and obstructing their mum and dad’s driveway. A few people have had expletive-laden notes attached to the windscreens warning them not to do it.’
Martin, also a bricklayer, drives an old Mercedes, and lived in a scruffy terraced house in Poole, Dorset.
Police are understood to have searched the home along with at least two other addresses nearby and seized computers and phones.
Mr Iembo, originally from Cutro in Italy, was living in Richmond Hill in Bournemouth.
His family owned ‘Oliera Iembo’, a company that produced olive oil, until 2014 when the police found out their supposedly home-grown produce was really from Morocco, Spain and Greece and closed them down.
Meanwhile the family of Spanish hair salon owner Mr Miguelez-Botas said he had told them he was going to the UK for a short holiday.
He had suffered financial problems and had applied for a loan to help him pay his debts and stop execution proceedings on a property he owned.
The property was embargoed in 2012 over a four-figure debt thought to relate to unpaid rent.
Brother Ruben said: ‘I had no idea he was going to Colombia, nor did his mum or his son.
‘He said he was going on holiday to Britain. He never mentioned South America.
‘I knew about the financial problems but I’m still in a state of shock at what’s happened. ‘He left Valladolid the Monday before last and was due back on Tuesday and I hadn’t been able to reach him so I was obviously concerned.’
The Bombardier Global Express jet, raided by Border Force officials, can take 13 passengers, or sleep six, and boasts an entertainment system with six TVs. It is estimated to have cost at least £100,000.
The plane belongs to Austrian firm Tyrolean Jet Services, based in Innsbruck. The crew were quizzed and released without charge.
Border Force Deputy Chief Operating Officer Mike Stepney said: ‘After meeting the flight and questioning those on board, officers became suspicious and searched the aircraft and their luggage.
‘When opened, each case was found to contain between 34 to 37 tape wrapped packages weighing approximately one kilo each.
‘One of these was pierced and a white powder exposed which tested positive for cocaine.’
National Crime Agency operations manager Siobhan Micklethwaite added: ‘This is a major seizure of cocaine, one of the largest flown into the UK by plane in many years, and this seizure by Border Force represents a major blow to organised crime.
‘We estimate that once cut and sold on the streets in the UK it would have had a potential value in excess of £50 million.’ – Mailonline
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