Members of a gang, including two former winners of a Channel 4 cooking programme, have been convicted after their plan to import large amounts of cannabis was uncovered. Nicholas Panayiotou, Eleanar Attard, Constantinos Zavros, Luke Wileman and Koby Haik planned to smuggle 58kg of cannabis into the country from the US, but were foiled following a theft at a London airport, the Metropolitan Police said.

Panayiotou and Attard appeared on Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me: The Professionals with their Touch of Greek restaurant in Chingford, east London in July 2022. Two women reported their suitcases and passports had been stolen to the Met’s Aviation Policing Command after arriving in London on a flight from Los Angeles on January 11 last year, the force said.

CCTV inquiries led detectives to two suspects, a man and woman, and a car registered to Attard. Officers attended Attard’s home in Broxbourne two days later where both she and her husband Panayiotou were arrested.

Panayiotou and Attard had travelled to a hotel in Chingford and their Touch of Greek restaurant after the theft was carried out. When officers examined Panayiotou’s phone, they found evidence on a WhatsApp group chat that the theft was part of a wider conspiracy to import and steal a large amount of cannabis, the Met said.

The chat contained details of a plan to smuggle the cannabis into the UK, and a plot to steal the cannabis from the two women recruited to import it by posing as customs officers. Three videos taken the day after the theft at the restaurant were also found on the phone which showed large quantities of cannabis.

Constantinos Zavros has been convicted of a plan to import cannabis
Constantinos Zavros has been convicted of a plan to import large amounts of cannabis

Three other people were identified in the WhatsApp group – Zavros, who was connected to the drugs suppliers in the US, Haik and Wileman, who advised the gang on how to sell the drugs, the force said. Zavros and Wileman were arrested after identification last April and last July respectively.

Officers attended Haik’s home on April 5 last year to arrest him, but he was armed with a baseball bat and fired two shots from an imitation firearm when they entered the address before he was safely detained. Zavros, 34, of Carlton Avenue, Southgate, was convicted of conspiracy to import cannabis, conspiracy to supply cannabis and conspiracy to steal.

Haik, 31, of Ashfield Road, Southgate, was convicted of conspiracy to import cannabis, conspiracy to supply cannabis, conspiracy to steal and possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. Wileman, 32, of Faygate Lane, Horsham, and Panayiotou, 43, of Sawells, Broxbourne, were both convicted of conspiracy to supply cannabis and conspiracy to steal.

Zavros was sentenced to six years and 11 months in prison, Haik was sentenced to seven years in prison and Panayiotou was sentenced to four years and one month in prison at Isleworth Crown Court on Friday, the force said.

Nicholas Panayiotou
Nicholas Panayiotou

Attard, 45, of Sawells, Broxbourne, was charged with theft of suitcases and passports and was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for 12 months, ordered to carry out a 10-day Rehabilitation Activity Requirement and complete 100 hours of unpaid work at Isleworth Crown Court on March 15. Wileman is due to be sentenced at the same court on May 9.

Met Detective Chief Inspector Inderjit Kaur said: “This investigation highlights some fantastic detective work by Met Police officers to identify and uncover a dangerous group involved in drugs importation and supply, which we know can have a terrible effect on local communities. “We also saw incredible bravery and professionalism from TSG officers who were shot at as they arrested one of the suspects.

“Thankfully, only blanks were fired, but thanks to this investigation, a dangerous weapon is off the streets and a group of dangerous criminals are now behind bars.”