Pubdate: Tue, 12 Apr 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Sewell Chan


Howard Marks, an Oxford-educated drug trafficker who at his peak in 
the 1970s controlled a substantial fraction of the world's hashish 
and marijuana trade, and who became a best-selling author after his 
release from an American prison, died on Sunday. He was 70.

His death, from colorectal cancer, which he disclosed last year, was 
confirmed by Robin Harvie, publisher for nonfiction at Pan Macmillan, 
which released Mr. Marks's final book, "Mr. Smiley: My Last Pill and 
Testament," in September. No other details were provided.

Mr. Marks's drug-smuggling career started at Oxford University, where 
he studied physics and philosophy in the 1960s and peddled marijuana 
on the side. (He swore off harder substances, like heroin and 
cocaine, after his friend Joshua Macmillan, a grandson of the former 
British prime minister Harold Macmillan, died of an overdose.)

In a 1996 autobiography, "Mr. Nice" - Donald Nice was one of his 
aliases - Mr. Marks wrote that his induction into the drug trade 
followed a chance encounter with a Pakistani supplier.

He eventually teamed up with James McCann, an Irish Republican Army 
operative, who arranged for large shipments of hashish through 
Ireland. Mr. Marks and his accomplices then laundered the proceeds 
through a staggering array of front companies. They widened their 
activities to include the United States and Canada in 1973.

Mr. Marks was arrested on drug charges in Nevada in 1976, but he 
failed to appear in court and fled. His elusiveness made him 
something of a legend; in 1979, he appeared on a stage in London, 
flanked by Elvis Presley impersonators, only to disappear again. He 
was eventually arrested in the Scottish Highlands, where he had 
imported 15 tons of marijuana from Colombia with a street value of 
$30 million. In 1980 he faced narcotics charges in London.

To the government's embarrassment, he was acquitted at his trial 
after arguing that he had been an agent of MI6, the British 
equivalent of the C.I.A. In fact, his relationship with the agency 
had ended years earlier.

"That was intimidating, to see that he had defeated the system, that 
he had somewhat created an aura about him that he was untouchable," 
Craig Lovato, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent who helped 
bring down Mr. Marks, told the PBS series "Frontline."

Those escapades inspired a 1984 book, "High Time: The Life and Times 
of Howard Marks," by the investigative journalist David Leigh, which 
portrayed Mr. Marks as a playboy in London and New York who was 
partial to expensive suits.

It was the United States that eventually brought him to justice. In 
July 1988, Mr. Marks and his wife, the former Judith Lane, were 
arrested on the Spanish island of Majorca and charged with 20 accomplices.

They were accused of involvement in a drug-smuggling ring that 
encompassed - along with Britain, Canada and the United States - 
Australia, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Pakistan, the Philippines, 
Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Thailand and West Germany.

The authorities seized more than $9 million in cash from the group, 
in addition to properties including a 103-foot-long boat in 
Vancouver, British Columbia.

"Mr. Marks was the Marco Polo of the drug traffic," Thomas V. Cash, 
the special agent in charge of the Miami division of the D.E.A., said 
at the time. "He perfected smuggling methods and intricate laundering 
operations involving many countries around the globe, and this is why 
it took efforts in so many countries to complete this case."

According to the indictment, Mr. Marks's network smuggled "thousands 
of tons" of marijuana and hashish into the United States and Canada 
from 1973 to 1988. Sentenced to 25 years in prison in 1990, Mr. Marks 
was held in a high-security federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. 
He was released in 1995.

Returning to Britain, Mr. Marks capitalized on his notoriety. His 
autobiography was the first of several books he published, including 
a novel. The autobiography was the basis for a film, also called "Mr. 
Nice," which was released in the United States in June 2011.

In his review of the movie in The New York Times, Stephen Holden 
wrote, "Those of us who were old enough in the 1960s and early '70s 
to recall the smug, superior attitude (tinged with paranoia) of the 
period's hipoisie will recognize his type and wonder exactly what 
happened to all those Mr. Tambourine Men preaching drugs, sex and 
rock 'n' roll."

Mr. Marks also ran for Parliament, unsuccessfully, in 1997 on a 
single-issue platform of cannabis legalization.

Dennis Howard Marks was born on Aug. 13, 1945, in Kenfig Hill, a 
village in southern Wales. He was twice divorced; his second wife, 
Judy Marks, wrote her own memoir, "Mr. Nice and Mrs. Marks: Life With 
Howard," published in 2006.

He is survived by their three children - Amber, Francesca and Patrick 
- - as well as a daughter, Myfanwy, from a previous marriage.
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