Jan 22, 2023
I know drug cartels didn’t shoot up Euston church service…I was Colombia’s ‘Mr Big’ in London says ‘UK’s Pablo Escobar’
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THE drive-by shooting in broad daylight at a memorial service in central London, which left a seven-year-old fighting for her life, was like a scene from a gangster movie.
Mourners outside the Euston church paying their respects to Colombian woman Fresia Calderon, 50, and her daughter Sara Sanchez, 20, screamed in horror as the gunman opened fire from a black Toyota, injuring four women and two children.10Jesus Ruiz Heneo, right, has been dubbed Britain's Pablo EscobarCredit: Supplied 10On January 14, mourners were gunned down in an attack linked to Colombian drug cartels 10The service was for Fresia Calderon and daughter Sara SanchezCredit: Supplied
The January 14 attack was linked to Colombian drug cartels after it emerged Fresia was married to a convicted member of the notorious Notre Valley cartel.
Her ex-husband, Carlos Arturo Sanchez-Coronado was jailed in 2009 for helping a British gang launder money for the feared Colombian Cali Cartel — which featured in the Netflix hit Narcos.
He is believed to have died in South America last year aged 56, after returning home on his release.
A 22-year-old man was arrested over the Euston shooting and released on bail but police have refused to reveal his identity or nationality, or comment on a possible motive.
Now, we can reveal the extent of Coronado’s involvement in the cartel in an exclusive interview with the Mr Big he laundered money for.
Jesus Ruiz Henao, dubbed Britain’s Pablo Escobar by cops, claims Coronado was “just a delivery boy” for a drugs network brought down in the country’s first £1billion bust in 2003.
But the 62-year-old claims Colombian drug cartels were NOT behind the Euston attack, suggesting London gangs could be responsible.
Henao, now living free in Colombia, said: “Carlos worked for me years ago in London, delivering money, but I don’t know what kind of deals he might have done since then. I didn’t hear from him before he died.”Most read in NewsDOORS CLOSING Major sports store shutting its doors for goodWOAH, MAMA! Hoda calls out Jenna for having ‘nothing on' & asks her to skip segmentEFF-ING GREAT I hated my F-cup boobs after church school, now I make cash reviewing bikinisICY HOT I'm a country girl, men want to be my 'ice-fishing buddy' after seeing my NSFW 'fit Sicilian Mafia
He said of the Euston shooting: “It could be revenge for something I suppose, but Colombian drug cartels don’t usually target family members and would never shoot women and children. It’s something else to do with gangs in London, maybe.”
Henao admits trying to set up drug deals from behind bars after he was jailed for 19 years in 2006 in a massive four-year police operation codenamed Operation Habitat.10Author Ron Chepesiuk is Henao's biographerCredit: Don Duncan 10Victims Fresia and Sara were the ex-wife and daughter of drug dealer Carlos Arturo Sanchez-Coronado 10Carlos said he got involved to help his sick daughter Sara 10Six people were shot at Fresia and Sara's memorial service in EustonCredit: LNP
But he insists he now leads a peaceful life back home, saying: “I am just living normally, enjoying my family.”
While Henao’s account should be regarded with a degree of scepticism, there are longstanding criminal links between Britain and Colombia.
At the height of his reign as a Mr Big here in the Nineties, Henao had 80 Brits working for him and around 20,000 Colombians, while laundering millions of pounds and flooding the UK with £25million of cocaine a year.
Heavily involved with the Notre Valley cartel, his empire was so significant that within weeks of his arrest the price of coke rose from £20,000 to £30,000.
At the time, Supt Martin Molloy, of the National Crime Squad, said: “We believe we have ripped the heart out of drug-trafficking in the UK.”
Thirty-four of Henao’s associates were jailed, for a total of 350 years.
But police were gutted not to catch Coronado, who they considered one of Henao’s principal money launderers.
He became the first man to ever be extradited from Colombia to the UK and was jailed for five-and-a-half years in 2009.
But Henao said: “He was a very small part, just a delivery boy. He was delivering money, that was it. It was a long time ago. People change.”
Coronado, who was working as a Colombian taxi driver when captured, told his trial he only got involved to help his sick daughter Sara.
She suffered from leukaemia for three years before succumbing to the disease in November, three weeks after her mother died suddenly from a blood clot.
The shooting at their memorial service happened as their friends and family released doves outside St Aloysius Church.
The seven-year-old was left in a life-threatening condition while a 48-year-old woman sustained “potentially life-changing injuries”.
There is no indication that any mourners were involved in wrongdoing and a possible Colombian connection is still being probed.
The Notre Valley cartel operated around the same time as the Cali and Medellin groups.
All three saw their grip on Britain’s drug trade diminish in the early 2000s.
But last February the National Crime Agency seized 2.3 tons of cocaine in a shipment of bananas into Plymouth, arriving from Colombia.
It would have fetched £184million on the street.
In his new book with US author and radio crime-show host Ron Chepesiuk — The Real Mr Big: How A Refugee Became The UK’s Most Notorious Cocaine Kingpin — Henao describes how he was able to flood the UK with cocaine.
The book tells how Henao claimed asylum in the UK in 1985.
He was already involved with heavies Notre Valley cartel heavies and had scoped out London’s club scene in the early Eighties before returning to Colombia to tell “my partners the good news”.
He writes: “We would deliver cocaine to England — a real open market where we believed law enforcement was lax.
“We were going to start out with just a five-kilo delivery, but realised we had no contacts in the UK.
“We had no way of getting the cocaine there.
“We negotiated with the Sicilian Mafia for a couple of weeks.
“Finally, they agreed they would deliver the product to one of their contacts in Barcelona, Spain, then move it to the UK.
We found a cruise liner that made regular trips to Barcelona. We would use that method as our means of delivery.”
When the first shipment made it to Britain, Henao said the Sicilian Mafia was “impressed” and struck a deal with him to smuggle five kilos of cocaine once a month.
He states: “We were in business — but were just getting started.”
By the time cops busted the gang, Henao’s business was booming.
He even claims he had three corrupt policemen on his books.
Drugs were taken from South America mostly to the coasts of Spain and Portugal where smaller craft would smuggle it ashore.
It was then hidden in lorries, covered in mustard or jam to put sniffer dogs off the scent.
On occasion, Henao says, drugs were flown from Holland into a small airport in Luton.
Once in the UK, they were taken to safe houses — often guarded by gangsters — before being sold for £60 a gram to dealers.
Dodgy meetings were held in pubs across London.
The proceeds, up to £25,000 a week, were laundered back to cartels in Colombia through front companies or taken back by couriers who swallowed euro notes stuffed in condoms.
He says at one point dealers could carry holdalls full of cocaine around London on the Tube and buses.Spot-the-ball contest
But the 9/11 terror attack in New York in 2001 made it harder, as security tightened in the capital.
The ingenious cartel then found a way to make cocaine in liquid form which was sealed into clothing or plastic.10At the height of his reign, Mr Big Henao flooded the UK with £25million of cocaine a yearCredit: Getty 10Henao has suggested that London gangs could be responsible for the crimeCredit: Alamy 10Henao never kept drugs and money in the same place in case of bustsCredit: Alamy
Henao would hire a criminal chemist to extract it, which would take up to 14 hours.
He said: “I hired many people from Colombia, who were well-recommended.
“They would fly to London and, after applying for and receiving refugee status, I would hire them.
“I never had any problem getting them into the country. The British immigration system was very lax in those days.”
He never kept money and drugs in the same safe house, in case of busts.
Neighbours in the North London suburb of Hendon believed Henao and his brother-in-law Mario Tason, who would be jailed for 17 years, lived quiet, respectable lives.
Henao was a bus driver while his wife Maria ran a hair and beauty salon. There was little sign of the millions rolling in.
Henao even set up a charity to raise money for an orphanage near his home town of Pereira for children who lost their parents to drug addiction or drug-related violence.
His only brush with fame came when he bizarrely won £100,000 in a newspaper spot-the-ball contest.
He writes: “They called me Mr Big. Maybe they should have called me The Invisible Man.
“I didn’t want to be popular. I just didn’t want anyone to know who I was.”
By the time police were on to him, he was handling millions of pounds.
But money laundering would eventually prove his downfall.
After hearing Coronando was an expert, he approached him.
Money was put through a restaurant Henao owned in the City of London, close to Liverpool Street.
But most funds went through a cafe called the La Gran Colombia in Archway, North London.
It was run by Luis Fernando Carranza Reyes who also ran money transfer firm TTT Money Core, used to get cash to Colombia.
Money would be split into maximum bundles of £500 — the biggest sum that could be sent to Colombia without lots of paperwork — which were wired in hundreds of transactions.
In one year, £20million was transferred and 20,000 South Americans helped with transfers, said police.
But Reyes later turned informant and gave evidence against his boss. Reyes was jailed for eight years in 2004.
Ironically, Henao’s empire crumbled six months after he had got out of the trade amid suspicions that the cops were on to him.
But in a change from his normally understated manner, he boasted that he was a “Mr Big”.
Ron Chepesiuk said: “It was a real departure from Jesus’ usual policy of telling no one who he really was.
“When I asked him why he did it he said he couldn’t resist. I think that he had been away from the trade for six months and perhaps wanted that little bit of attention.
“He said it was a crazy thing to do. But I think he knew he would have been arrested in any event, as the police were on to him.”
The drugs market may be lucrative but those involved can pay a high personal price — and Henao’s brother was murdered in a hit in Colombia.
While the country’s new president Gustavo Petro, has vowed to win the “war on drugs”, the country remains the world’s top cocaine producer.
Now back home, Henao, who has a grown-up daughter, says he has had time to realise the damage done.
He writes: “I lost all those years with my daughter. I will never get the time back.
“All the money I mad can’t buy the time I lost. My family has said to me: ‘Don’t do it again.’
“I promised them I will never sell drugs again. I won’t lose my family for that. It would be very stupid.
“Sure, there is the money, the excitement. Drug-trafficking will go on. But I will not be a part of it.”
Henao also has another regret. He said: “I never stashed any money away. It was all in three houses I owned, and my restaurant. They were given up.Read More on The US SunFINAL GOODBYES Lisa Presely to be laid to rest today after Graceland memorial tributeWOULD-BE DETECTIVE Gabby Petito case a 'watershed' moment for online sleuths, ex-cop says
“When the police searched my home, all they found was £5,000. I had a Swiss bank account and another in the Cayman Islands but I used the money from those to pay my debts in Colombia.”
And the last of the cash confiscated from his bank came not from drugs, but that spot-the-ball contest.Topics
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