‘Infantryman’ booked Airbnb apartments for cocaine plot in Oxford

A ‘foot soldier’ ​​in a multi-million pound drug conspiracy has contracted Oxford Airbnb properties to store and process pounds of cocaine and ketamine at a time.

Although drugs with an estimated street value of £1.5million passed through his hands in just two weeks in May 2020, Benjamin Chen received just £2,000 for the risky job.

His lawyer, Janick Fielding, said the 26-year-old defendant was guilty of two “acts of insanity”.

The first was that his college-educated client should get involved in the drug business first.

Second, having left early and flown to Taiwan, where his father lives, he left that life behind to return to his native UK last Christmas and help his mother. He did this despite knowing that the heavily encrypted Encrochat network he had used to communicate with others in the plot had been hacked by the police.

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

“Most people in that situation, with the possibility of not coming back, never would have.

“The defendant had put his criminal offense behind him and decided never to return to it, engaged in hard and solid work and sought 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 drug 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 on to British authorities, indicated that the gang was handling at least 150kg of cocaine. The cocaine alone was worth £5.5m on the wholesale market, with a market value of £15m.

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

During his two-week involvement between May 6 and May 21, he is estimated to have handled 15 kg of cocaine and 3 kg of ketamine, a Class B drug.

He was paid £2,000 for his part in the plot. Unlike others involved in the drug supply, he could have walked away from the trade.

Mr Fielding, mitigating, said his client, as a schoolboy, had been on the fast track to playing professional rugby. But a number of head injuries sustained while playing the sport have left him with ‘mental health side effects’ including depression and anxiety.

Oxford Mail: photo of Benjamin Chen Benjamin Chen’s photo (Image: Thames Valley Police)

A series of character references spoke of his caring and supportive traits. Since his pre-trial detention, he had been granted enhanced prisoner status and was considered a role model for other detainees.

Chen, of Benson Road, Headington, pleaded guilty to conspiring to supply class A and B drugs.

Judge Nigel Daly jailed him for six years, telling Chen, “Maybe you didn’t come back to face the music, but the effect of your coming back is that’s what you’re doing. .”

This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as a forensic and crime reporter from Oxfordshire.

To contact him, email: [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward

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