Dutch entrepreneur jailed over £133m cocaine smuggling plot

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
Maarten Pieterse was caught with 1,161 blocks of high-purity cocaine weighing 2.1 tonnes on board the SY Marcia vessel (PA)

A Dutch jewellery entrepreneur who attempted to smuggle two tonnes of cocaine worth £133 million into Europe on his sailing yacht has been jailed for 16 years.

Maarten Pieterse, 61, was caught with 1,161 blocks of high-purity cocaine weighing 2.1 tonnes stowed in a purpose-built hidden compartment on board the SY Marcia vessel.

On Wednesday, a court heard the businessman had been working for a criminal group when his 40,000 Euro yacht was intercepted by the Border Force cutter HMC Vigilant 120 miles south-west of the Cornish coast on July 18 last year.

The yacht had left Marina d'Angra, Terceira, in the Azores on July 9 2018, and National Crime Agency (NCA) officers believe the haul was destined for Belgium.

The stash of cocaine was worth £133m (PA)

Pieterse, who the court heard had no previous offences and had lived a "well-lived life", later pleaded guilty to carrying or concealing a controlled drug on a ship, though his criminal suppliers are yet to be identified.

Prosecutor Richard Posner told the court the characteristics of Pieterse's actions suggested "a role within a chain motivated by financial advantage”.

Dominic Thomas, defending Pieterse, told Bristol Crown Court his client was once the owner of a "thriving and relatively high-profile jewellery business", Het Juweel in Rotterdam, but had since fallen on harder times.

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He said Pieterse had been subject to "difficult and lengthy divorce proceedings" from his ex-wife and co-owner of their business, and had more recently been caring for his librarian girlfriend while she fought cancer.

Mr Thomas suggested Pieterse had accepted an offer to smuggle the cocaine for money in order to "treat" his girlfriend after she went into remission and support his two daughters and grandchildren.

Mr Thomas said: “He committed this offence at a uniquely difficult point in his life. Whoever suggested this scheme to him when he was poorly placed to resist whatever temptation was put in his path.”

Officers on the deck of the SY Marcia at Newlyn harbour with some of the two tonnes of cocaine which was found aboard (PA)

Sentencing Pieterse, Judge Michael Longman said: "The clear inference is that you expected a huge financial profit from this venture.

"I don't doubt your involvement in this enterprise has been shocking to some of those who thought they knew you well.”

Following the sentencing, Ty Surgeon, Operations Manager at the NCA, said: "Pieterse's yacht had been specially adapted for the sole purpose of drug smuggling, and this seizure will have significantly disrupted the activities of organised crime groups.

Drugs are unloaded from a boat by officers at Newlyn harbour, with the Border Force cutter HMC Vigilant behind (PA)

"I have no doubt these drugs were destined for Europe and the UK, to be sold by drugs gangs who are also involved in intimidation, exploitation and violence.

"We know the criminal trade in drugs is driven by financial gain, and the loss of the profit that would have been made from this seizure will have a major impact on the crime groups involved.”

Crew member Emile Schoemaker, 45, who was arrested with Pieterse, was found not guilty of the same charge in June.

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