Cocaine worth half a billion pounds was smuggled into the UK during a 'highly sophisticated' operation, a jury was told.
The smuggling ring was only smashed when one consignment of the drug was swapped for flour by customs officers and then secretly followed to its Greater Manchester destination, it was claimed.
The alleged drug runners operated a courier service transporting the Class A drug from Spain to a warehouse in Trafford Park, Manchester Crown Court was told.
But the operation was halted when customs officers discovered a shipment of 80kg of cocaine - worth £25m - hidden in a lorry at Dover.
Instead of seizing the haul, officers replaced the drugs with flour and allowed the lorry to continue to Trafford Park. They planned to pounce when the gang went to collect the stash.
But the gang grew suspicious that the shipment was being tracked by police after the delivery from Dover was delayed - so they staged a 'robbery' to steal their own cocaine from the warehouse, the court heard.
When the men, who had allegedly been running their operation for at least four years realised the drugs had been replaced, they dumped the shipment in the River Irk in Middleton, Greater Manchester.
Darrol Sedgwick, 43, of Stretford; Darren Spensley, 34, of Ramsbottom; Bury Duncan Rimmer, 52, of Worsley, Salford; and Steven Smith, 38, of of Middleton, all deny conspiracy to import cocaine.
Prosecutor Paul Mitchell told the jury that the £25m of cocaine seized in Dover on July 20 last year was 'just the tip of a much larger iceberg'. The stash was found inside six large metal tubes on a lorry.
The intercepted cargo was set for delivery to a company called CB Engineering - a firm which did not exist, the court heard.
More than 30 previous deliveries had been sent from Barcelona in Spain to CB Engineering via Trafford Park between 2006 and last year, the court heard.
Mr Mitchell said: 'In reality, that (£25m) importation was part of a larger scale, highly-sophisticated scheme by which large quantities of high-quality cocaine were imported into the UK over a period of years.
'If each of the previous loads is the similar cargo of cocaine then the total amount of drugs imported using this scheme would have a street value in excess of £500m.'
The cocaine was between 73 and 85 per cent pure - about seven times the purity sold on the streets.
It was divided into one-kilogramme, silver packages, with red and blue bands around them.
Mr Mitchell showed the jury detailed mobile phone records allegedly linking members of the gang to the crimes.
The records were said to link them to the scene of the staged robbery and the river where the flour was later dumped. The gang did not sell the cocaine on the streets themselves, but were paid to run a courier service for dealers, the court heard.
Mr Mitchell said: 'These defendants offered a transportation and storage service on behalf of drug dealers. They may well have been working on behalf of more than one such customer.
'The purpose of their organisation was to get the cocaine into the country and hand it to the drug dealers.
'Their motivation was money,' Mr Mitchell told the jury.
The case continues.
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 11:24 AM on 28th July 2010