Leader of cryptocurrency cocaine gang who made £2.8m ordered to pay £1

Joshua Billingham
-Credit: (Image: Gwent Police)

One of the heads of an organised crime group which made millions of pounds trafficking cocaine and then laundered the profits through cryptocurrency has been ordered to pay back just £1. Joshua Billingham benefitted from his criminality to the tune of more than £2.8m but now has no assets that financial investigators can find.

Billingham, from Caerphilly, ran the gang with Cardiff man Amir Khan who benefitted to the tune of more than £6.8m from his part in the drug dealing operation - in his case investigators identified available assets of £151,799 which can be seized. A judge has now made Proceeds of Crime Act confiscations orders in the sums of £1 and £151,799 in respect of the two men who are currently serving lengthy prison sentences.

During the course of its operation the gang sourced 40kg of cocaine and used stash houses and industrial units to store and mix the drug which they then distributed across south and west Wales using a network of dealers. The leaders of the organised crime group or OCG used secure Encrochat phones to communicate, and the street value of the coke peddled by the group was put at more than £4.5m. You can read about how law enforcement agencies hacked the Encrochat network here. The gang laundered their profits through a series of cryptocurrency accounts. Some of this laundering was organised by the pair while they were in prison for other offences.

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The operation was disrupted in 2020 when Gwent Police raided a flat in Caerphilly and found half a kilo of cocaine, six kilos of cutting agent, and other paraphernalia including two hydraulic presses used in the package of the Class A drug. The home of Khan and his partner Caitlin De Jager in Cardiff was subsequently searched by police and officers found designer goods worth more than £100,000 including a pair of trainers belonging to Khan worth £10,000 alone. De Jager was in South Africa at the time of the raid but was able to empty an account containing US$42,948 "under the noses of police".

Further arrests were subsequently made as other members of the gang were identified and located. Eventually a total of 12 defendants were sentenced at Cardiff Crown Court on July 28 last year for their involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering. Following the sentencing a proceeds of crime investigation was launched to identify any ill-gotten gains that could be recovered. Eleven months after they were jailed, four members of the group returned to the dock for a judge to make confiscation orders.

The court heard Billingham, who is serving a 14 year and eight month sentence, benefitted to the tune of £2,805,3338.61 but now has no assets and a nominal £1 confiscation order was made. He has 28 days to pay the pound or face an extra week in prison. Amir Khan, who is serving a 20 year and seven month sentence, benefitted in the sum of £6,812,932.95 and has £151,799.67 in available assets. He was given three months to pay or face three-and-a-half years in prison in default. De Jager, who is serving a four year and four month sentence, was said to have benefitted to the tune of £299,153.09 and has £9,438.44 in assets. She was given three months to pay or face five months in prison. Fellow gang member Darryl Skym from Caerphilly, who is serving 10 years custody, benefitted in the sum of £2,758,296.89 but like Billingham is said to have no assets and a £1 nominal order was made in his case. Like Billingham he has 28 days to pay up or face seven days in prison. For the latest court reports, sign up to our crime newsletter here

Amir Khan
Amir Khan -Credit:Gwent Police
Caitlin De Jager
Caitlin De Jager -Credit:Gwent Police
Darryl Skym
Darryl Skym -Credit:Gwent Police

Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation orders in respect of other gang members are yet to be determined. Following last year's sentencing detective constable Michael Coles, who led the investigation, said: "These sentences are the culmination of more than two years of meticulous work to disrupt, dismantle and bring this organised crime group to justice. The group operated on a hierarchical basis, sourcing vast amounts of cocaine and relied on the help of close friends and associates to distribute the drugs to dealers in south and mid Wales. Joshua Billingham and Amir Khan played the leading management role and used friends and family to launder the money obtained through drugs to cryptocurrency accounts in their names.

"The court heard how the group used stash houses and industrial units to store, mix and supply their drugs. Between them, they supplied more than 40 kilograms of cocaine, a street value of £4.6m, to drug dealers across Wales. The total value of cryptocurrency that passed through the OCG’s accounts was more than £3m.

"This is one of the first cases in Gwent where cryptocurrency was used to launder money. Due to the hard work and expertise of our cyber crime unit, we were able to trace the money and bring these offenders to justice. We’re delighted with the sentences issued and hope it serves as a deterrent to those who choose to involve themselves with organised crime. We will not just pursue those supplying the drugs, we will also take positive action against those who choose to aid in their criminality such as concealing financial rewards. I’d like to thank our partners who worked with us on this case as they helped us to make arrests and gather intelligence to allow us to provide further evidence of this group’s illegal activity."

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