A British couple who claim they were tricked into smuggling cocaine on a luxury cruise spent thousands of pounds a year on trips abroad despite their meagre income, court documents have revealed.
Former chef Roger Clarke, 72, and his retired secretary wife Sue, 71, will stand trial in Lisbon today after they were arrested with nine kilograms of cocaine allegedly in their luggage when their cruise liner MC Marco Polo docked in the Portuguese capital last December.
The pair face up to 12 years in prison if convicted of drugs trafficking.
Explosive court papers made public on Monday showed Mr Clarke told police after their arrest a mystery entrepreneur “of Jamaican origin” called Lee paid for their £6,800 Caribbean cruise and fooled them into smuggling the drugs.
Mr Clarke claimed the wheeler-dealer asked him to buy exotic fruit for sale in the UK, before getting him to pick up “empty” new suitcases in St Lucia from an unidentified middleman he said he could sell in Harrods for a massive profit.
However, the two volumes of court documents show that the elderly couple had long combined a seemingly run-of-the-mill lifestyle focused around bingo, golf and the occasional meal out with friends with a remarkable number of cruises to exotic locations.
Police investigators calculated the Clarkes went on cruises costing nearly £18,000 over two years despite a disposable monthly income after they had paid the rent on their expat home in Guardamar del Segura near Alicante of just £885 a month.
“They were made to South America, to countries which were linked to the transport of cocaine to Europe.”
“While they made their first trip at the beginning of 2017 by plane, they made subsequent trips on cruise ships which allowed them to carry a larger amount of drugs.”
Inspector Nunes insisted it made “no sense” mystery businessman “Lee” paid for the cruise they were arrested on when “Roger didn’t even know how to properly identify him” and claimed he was not able to provide police with a phone number, email or name of any import-export firms the entrepreneur was involved in.
Nunes added: “The age of the suspects added to the fact they were a married couple could lead one to suspect these cruises were really for fun when in truth they were part of an illicit project and their behaviour was designed just to make easy money with high profit.”
Roger and Sue Clarke are expected to plead not guilty in court on Tuesday.
Mrs Clarke told police after her arrest she had only met “Lee” and his wife Claudette once, during a visit to their Spanish home which she marked in her diary for June 15 2018 after they jetted from Gatwick to Alicante on flight BA2630.
The court papers show she told cops had no idea the cases her husband was carrying had drugs in them when he “showed up” on their cruise liner with them.
Although the street value of the nine kilos the Clarkes were caught with was initially put at POUNDS two million, experts later said they thought the cocaine was worth around POUNDS one million.
The crime of drugs trafficking carries a four to 12 year prison sentence in Portugal.
In a 2018 diary seized from Mrs Clarke’s bedside on the Marco Polo were notes detailing extravagant trips.
One, relating to a cruise they never took because they were behind bars in Lisbon, included the entry: “12 March 2019. 16 days. Fly to Havana, Cuba. Cruise to Philipsburg, St Maarten; St John, Antigua and Barbados; Funchal, Madeira; Malaga, Alicante. Approx 4,000 pounds.”
The NCA have not publicly revealed how they got the information the Clarkes could be carrying nine kilos of cocaine picked up in St Lucia, although the court files highlight their 2010 conviction and subsequent imprisonment in Norway for trafficking 240 kilos of cannabis resin.
But the previously-unreleased court files show a Lisbon-based NCA liaison officer revealed when he passed on the tip to Portuguese police the couple had spoken only of visiting family in Kent at passport control when they returned to the UK about a week after leaving on their last Caribbean cruise and “made no mention of travelling to the Caribbean.”
A damning Portuguese police report, signed by Policia Judiciaria inspector Carla Nunes on May 20 2019, and made public ahead of the couple’s trial, said: “There is no doubt Roger and Susan Clarke had contact with drugs trafficking organisations during two trips in 2017 and another they made in 2018.”