Pubdate: Sun, July 11 1999
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd.


FORMULA ONE racing has been linked to cocaine smuggling amid
allegations that grand prix cars may have been used to conceal drugs
as they are transported around the world.

Customs officers revealed last week that they have been monitoring the
movement of Formula One personnel and equipment through Dover.
Officers say they were tipped off by an informant in the motor racing
world 18 months ago.

The disclosure follows an earlier inquiry by Scotland Yard drug squad
detectives. Codenamed Operation Equipment, their investigation was
sparked by details given by two informants that individuals within F1
were using the sport as cover for international drug

Two of the detectives involved told Insight that racing cars and their
containers have allegedly been used to conceal cocaine. They say
traffickers allegedly took advantage of the shipment of vehicles as
cover to bring drugs into Britain and the Continent from South
America. The drugs were believed to have been stashed in car parts and
equipment and then placed in containers which were transported across
the world.

"Formula One teams do a lot of practice in Spain, Portugal and France.
Stuff might be coming through there and then into Britain," said a

At one point in their inquiries, Scotland Yard detectives considered
putting an undercover policeman inside Formula One.

They planned to ask Nigel Mansell, the former British world champion
and a special police constable, to help them get their man in. Mansell
said last week he was unable to comment.

The wife of one well-known British driver revealed that she saw "white
packages", believed to be cocaine, being put inside a container in Rio
de Janeiro in Brazil.

She said that F1 transporters were rarely searched: "After all, these
guys are heroes. All anyone wants is an autograph. The containers were
used to ship all sorts of goods. I saw white packages loaded into a
container. I guessed it was cocaine," she said.

Jackie Oliver, the former grand prix driver, said he was aware of an
inquiry into alleged trafficking. He said F1 equipment had been seized
on its way back from South America. "They pounced on all the equipment
coming back from the Brazilian Grand Prix and held it up for days in
customs while they went through everything with a fine tooth comb. We
all complied and gave them full access and they got their sniffer dogs
and went round everything - and never found anything."

A third source close to several F1 teams said he had heard that
containers had been secretly used to transport drugs and money, adding
that he had been interviewed by police about their investigation.
Customs officials in Dover confirmed last week they had recently
received instructions from head office in London to monitor Formula
One teams and their equipment as they entered this country.

"We have previously been successful in finding drugs in vehicles
associated with motor sport, and Formula One teams using the port will
be treated to the same level of scrutiny," said Nigel Knott, customs
spokesman for southeast England.

"When you're talking about 15-metre trailers, the potential for hiding
drugs is phenomenal. And there is more than one vehicle per team."

There are at least 11 competing Formula One teams, each with more than
a 100 members. Along with scores of hangers-on, hundreds of people
have access to grand prix cars and their containers.

Police sources say the high-profile nature of some teams makes it
easier for them to travel unhindered across international borders.
They suspect a number of rogue individuals have taken advantage of

One of the men named by their informants is a convicted cocaine
smuggler with links to figures in F1. Last week the man, a London
businessman, told The Sunday Times he was aware he had been under
surveillance and that he had complained to Scotland Yard that he had
been harassed and threatened by police.

Describing the allegations of a cocaine link to F1 as a "complete
fairytale", he said he believed police had tried to entrap him in a
"sting" operation involving hidden cameras.

It is not the first time that motor racing has been implicated in
drugs trafficking. In 1990 Johnny Herbert, the Formula One driver,
told the Old Bailey he had been unwittingly sponsored by a man who, it
turned out, had masterminded a pounds 18m cannabis smuggling ring.

Paul Newman, a London businessman, had his own box at Brands Hatch and
used his drugs profits to set up two motor racing teams. He was
sentenced to 10 years in prison. Herbert told the trial he did not
realise there was any drugs connection.

The Scotland Yard inquiry into Formula One was inconclusive but its
existence was confirmed by Derek Todd, the former head of its central
drugs squad. Duncan MacLaughlin, a former drugs squad detective in
charge of the investigation, also revealed that allegations from
within the motor racing world had been made that F1 was being used as
a front for cocaine trafficking.

It is believed that Bernie Ecclestone, the boss of Formula One, became
aware of the inquiry 18 months ago after news of the operation started
circulating within F1. MacLaughlin said Ecclestone had telephoned him
in November 1997 to offer full co-operation.

During Operation Equipment, police travelled to Los Angeles in 1995 to
liaise with drug enforcement officers about an investigation there
into money-laundering and F1.

Scotland Yard has also made inquiries in Tokyo where evidence emerged
of a possible link between some F1 individuals and drugs money
laundering for the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza.

MacLaughlin left the Metropolitan police last year and now runs a
security consultancy that numbers Damon Hill, the former British world
champion, among its clients.

Ecclestone declined to discuss the affair last week. But an aide said:
"He did not have any knowledge or evidence that individuals within F1
were doing anything of the sort [drug smuggling]. If he had
information or evidence, he would have taken it to the police."

Scotland Yard said this weekend that drug operations were now the
responsibility of the National Crime Squad. A spokesman for the squad
said: "We do not discuss our ongoing inquiries."

A 32-year-old Royal Navy serviceman was being questioned by police
yesterday on suspicion of manslaughter after an accident at
Silverstone motor racing circuit that left one man dead.

The accident happened when an open-top MG sports car drove onto the
grand prix circuit, then spun off and overturned. Three men managed to
crawl free, but a fourth died at the scene. The driver was later arrested.

The man who died, aged 35, had not been named last night at his
family's request. He was based at the Royal Naval Air Station at
Yeovilton in Somerset and came from Salisbury.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence confirmed that the other
three, including the man who has been arrested, were from 771
Squadron, based at RNAS Culdrose in Helston, Cornwall.

The accident happened just before 11pm on Friday night. The driver and
the other two men, aged 36 and 40, were later taken to Northampton
General Hospital and were discharged after treatment for minor
injuries. The driver was then arrested and taken to Daventry police
station for questioning.

The men had all been off duty and were there as spectators, the MoD
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