Retired British couple appear in court accused of smuggling £1m cocaine haul on cruise

17 September 2019, 12:12 | Updated: 17 September 2019, 19:17

An elderly British couple have appeared in court in Portugal accused of smuggling cocaine worth £1m on a luxury cruise ship.

Roger Clarke, 72, and his wife Sue, 71, claim they were tricked into smuggling 9kg (20lbs) of cocaine which was found in their luggage by Portuguese authorities last December.

The retired couple, who have been held in separate prisons since their arrest, are facing up to 12 years in prison if convicted of drug trafficking at a trial in Lisbon.

Experts have valued the drugs haul at about £1m.

The Clarkes, who deny the charges against them, appeared at Lisbon Central Criminal Court on Tuesday.

According to court papers, the pair, from Bromley in Kent, went on exotic cruises costing nearly £18,000 over two years, despite living on £885 a month after paying rent.

They told investigators they were fooled into smuggling the drugs by a mystery businessman "of Jamaican origin" named Lee who had paid for their cruise.

Mr Clarke said Lee asked him to pick up "empty" new suitcases in St Lucia and buy exotic fruit which could be sold for a huge profit in the UK.

Portuguese police chief Carla Nunes said it made "no sense" for the mystery businessman to pay for the cruise as Mr Clarke was unable to identify him or provide any contact information.

A 2018 diary which was seized from Mrs Clarke's bedside by police detailed the couple's extravagant trips.

One entry in the diary, referring to a trip which was never taken as the couple were behind bars, read: "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 couple were arrested when the cruise liner they were on, MC Marco Polo, docked in the Portuguese capital and the cocaine was found "ingeniously concealed" within four suitcases, according to local police.

Court files show officers were tipped off by the UK's National Crime Agency when the couple told British passport control that they had been visiting family in Kent, when they had in fact just returned from the Caribbean.

A Portuguese police report signed by Ms Nunes 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.

"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."

Speaking outside court, defence lawyer Susana Paisana said Mrs Clarke "has a few health problems" and there had been "constant contact" between their relatives and legal representatives.

Verdicts in the case are expected next week, she added.