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Users of #Encrochat: 'Foot soldier' booked Airbnb flats for Oxford cocaine conspiracy


Despite drugs with an estimated street value of £1.5m passing through his hands over just two weeks in May 2020, Benjamin Chen received just £2,000 for the risky work.

His barrister, Janick Fielding, said the 26-year-old defendant was guilty of two ‘acts of lunacy’.The first was that his university-educated client should get involved in the drugs business in the first place.

Secondly, having got out early and flown to Taiwan, where his dad lives, he left that life behind to return to his native UK last Christmas and help out his mum. He did it despite knowing that the heavily-encrypted Encrochat network he had used to communicate with others in the conspiracy had been hacked by the police.

“He chose to come back to the UK, knowing the Encrochat bubble had burst, knowing what he had done and had left behind him could be looked into,” Mr Fielding said.

“Most people in that situation, with the opportunity not to come back would never have done so.

“The defendant had put his criminal offending behind him and had resolved never to go back to it, had engaged in hard, solid work and looked to build a future for himself.”

Prosecutor Lisa Goddard told Oxford Crown Court on Friday that Chen was a ‘foot soldier’ in a much larger drugs conspiracy operating in the city in the first half of 2020.

Messages sent between the conspirators on heavily-encrypted Encrochat phones, which were intercepted by French police and passed to the UK authorities, pointed to the gang handling at least 150kgs of cocaine. The cocaine alone was worth £5.5m on the wholesale market, with a street value of £15m.

Chen’s job was to transport blocks of cocaine or ketamine. He also rented Airbnb properties to warehouse the drugs.

Over his two-week involvement between May 6 and 21, he was estimated to have handled 15kgs of cocaine and 3kgs of class B drug ketamine.


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