In December, Darius Pearce, who ran a shop in the Central Market, was found guilty of three counts of money-laundering following a week-long trial, after pleading not guilty to the offences.
His conviction followed a sting operation which saw Customs and States police officers intercept a gang’s yacht carrying almost £1 million-worth of drugs at Belval in June 2019. Seven of those involved in the plot were later jailed for a combined total of 74 years.
A police investigation found that between March and June 2019, large sums of money were being moved from Jersey to the UK, by numerous members of the drugs gang using various methods including carrying out cash by flight or ferry.
In the months leading up to the arrests, it was heard that this has included Pearce taking cash from gang members at his shop to buy gold bullion in London’s Hatton Garden. The gold would then be picked up and handed to a gang member in the UK.
It was determined that between July 2016 and August 2018 Pearce had bought £130,000 of bullion for the gang.
During sentencing before the Superior Number of the Royal Court yesterday, Crown Advocate Matthew Maletroit called for Pearce to be jailed for 7½ years.
The Advocate said that the laundered money was in relation to drug trafficking in Jersey, including the importation of cannabis, cocaine and MDMA, that would cause a ‘high level of harm’ to the local community.
He added that personal mitigation for Pearce was ‘very limited’ due to a number of previous convictions, not entering a guilty plea and lack of co-operation during the trial and police investigation, including wasting court time at one stage by requesting a trial by combat.
He said: ‘Significant wasted costs were incurred by the Crown as a result of the defendant reneging on matters agreed at interlocutory hearings, vexatious correspondence, and vexatious applications including, for example, an application to find the Crown Advocate in contempt of court, and an application for trial by combat.’
Pearce, who represented himself for a portion of the mitigation submission, claimed to be unaware of the drugs gang’s activities when asked to buy gold bullion for them.
‘I would accept requests to buy gold bullion from anybody,’ he said.
Advocate Ian Jones, defending, added that the Crown had been unable to confirm how much money Pearce had helped launder and the court should therefore rely on the amount he claimed to be involved, which was lower, for sentencing.
He called for a five-year jail sentence to be imposed, with 12 to 18 months deducted for mitigation.
Returning the court’s verdict, Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith, presiding, said that Jurats accepted the Crown’s views on the case and imposed a sentence of 7½ years in jail.
Jurats Rozanne Thomas, Jane Ronge and Steven Austin-Vautier were sitting.
Attorney General Mark Temple QC said: ‘I welcome the sentence handed down by the Court which again shows that Jersey is committed to combatting money-laundering and ensuring that Jersey businesses cannot be utilised for the movement of criminal property.
‘The sentence will serve as a deterrent to those who might be tempted to become concerned in this type of offending. It sends a very clear signal that Jersey is not open for business of this sort.’
Detective Chief Inspector Craig Jackson said: ‘This was a large, complex investigation which involved a number of suspects and significant analysis. Pearce changed his story several times along the way but the evidence was strong and his sentence now adds to the 74 years custody that the Royal Court sanctioned in 2020 to the other seven offenders investigated as part of Operation Lion.’