A HUDDERSFIELD businessman accused of storing two million stolen pills in his stockroom told a court he thought they were from a legitimate source.
Hafiz Noorullah, 43, kept £1.7m worth of heart-disease, breast cancer and Parkinson’s medication in his warehouse as part of an illegal trafficking operation, it is claimed.
Noorullah, of Pateley Crescent, Fartown, denies handling stolen goods on or before November 14, 2007 and breaching a wholesale medicines licence on the same dates.
Prosecutors at his trial at London’s Southwark Crown Court say the haul had vanished from a secure depot two years earlier before resurfacing for sale on the internet.
When a firm of private detectives investigated the disappearance their inquiries led them to Noorullah’s premises in Meltham.
The alleged mastermind of the operation, 52-year-old Mahmood Aziz, is on the run after skipping bail.
But Noorullah told a jury yesterday that he had no idea Aziz was anything other than a legitimate trader.
He said Aziz had approached him with a potential business opportunity to export the pills and he had agreed to help him store them as he had properly licensed premises.
Noorullah told the court he had worked as a pharmacist after graduating from Portsmouth University in 1988 until he was struck off the register 10 years later.
He said he then concentrated on a number of business ventures in his native Huddersfield as well as obtaining a Masters degree in information systems.
The court heard he owns a travel agent called Travel Express and a mobile phone warehouse, Click On Mobile, in Huddersfield, as well as a restaurant in Dewsbury – and was planning to open another in Huddersfield.
Noorullah told the court that in 2005 he set up a new venture called Ahz Pharmaceuticals, aiming to become a wholesale medicines trader, and managed to obtain a licence from the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to import and export medicines within the EEC.
He said: “Pharmacy is my first career and I had been out of it for a period of time, but it was something I had always wanted to continue with.’’
It was at this stage that he started to rent storage facilities in Station Street, Meltham.
In the autumn of 2007 Aziz contacted him out of the blue at his travel business and they later met a second time to discuss business opportunities.
He told jurors: ‘‘Aziz told me he was in the process of negotiating for some medicines with some customers in the war zone.
“I assumed that meant Iraq or Afghanistan. This added to his credibility in my mind, if you like.
“He said that if need be – and he stressed this – if need be, did I think I might be able to store them for him?
“I said in principal I didn’t have anything against it, but I didn’t think my store room was going to be big enough.’’
Noorullah said Aziz insisted on being shown around the premises and told him the room would be ‘fine’.
The defendant added that he made sure Aziz was not planning to sell the pills in the EEC.
He said: “The obligations under my licence were always at the forefront of my mind, not least because we were dealing with medicines for human consumption.
“He reassured me again and again and again that no, he couldn’t sell in the UK. What he was doing was exporting outside the EEC and again Afghanistan, China, Iran and Iraq were mentioned.’’
The defendant said he took delivery of the medicines on October 12 and met Aziz again three days later to give him the code to access the storeroom.
He said that he never saw or heard from Aziz again after that meeting.
MHRA officials raided the storeroom on November 13 that year after private investigators posing as potential buyers met Aziz there.
The defendant said he was contacted by the MHRA on that date and went to talk to them voluntarily.
The court has heard that millions of tablets went missing when a trailer belonging to Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis vanished from a depot in Thatcham, Berkshire, on the night of November 6, 2005.
The stolen pills included 1.64m of Comtan used to treat Parkinson’s disease, 489,000 of Lopressor which helps fight heart disease by lowering blood pressure and 329,000 Femara breast cancer tablets.
The trial continues.