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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Court reporter

Images released as former footballer jailed for HUGE drugs and money operation

A FORMER footballer involved in a huge drugs and dirty money operation has been jailed for seven years.

Paul MacDonald boasted how he was selling almost £2 million of high-purity cocaine a month.

But, the 35-year-old and accomplice Craig Balloch, 30, were snared by detectives who discovered damning encrypted texts which helped pin them to the lucrative trafficking.

Ex-Hearts player MacDonald returned to the High Court in Glasgow along with Balloch today.

Following their appearance, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) released two images that were taken as part of an investigation after the pair had been snared.

The National: The National: They had each pleaded guilty to a charge of being involved in serious organised crime between February 2019 and June 2020.

MacDonald - who also represented Scotland at youth level - already had a previous conviction for cocaine supply in 2017.

Sentencing, Lady Stacey today told him: "You do not need me to tell you that [this involved] a great deal of money.

"I also know the drugs concerned were, class A, and that you now realise that these things cause havoc in people's lives."

Balloch meantime was locked up for seven years and six months.

The judge said he had been involved in a "safe house" for the crime and had also handled large quantities of cash.

A hearing last month was told how MacDonald had initially been clocked in a drugs handover in Cambuslang in March 2019.

His home in the town was later searched and police seized a number of phones.

They contained texts about the trafficking of "tops" - a reference to cocaine - as well as "bots" - a term for heroin.

Prosecutor John McElroy KC said: "An iPhone attributed to MacDonald had messages discussing the purchase and sale of high-value watches.

"There were others where he indicates he is buying a property in Spain valued at '325k, getting it for 250k' and asks a family member to put it in their name."

However, the search did not stop the ex-footballer and Balloch.

The pair used a woman's house to store "hundreds of thousands of pounds" of ill-gotten gains.

This included her being asked: "Can you make a bag with 354k in it".

The woman was later arrested herself and police seized more than £444,000 in cash from the property.

This appeared to panic MacDonald and Balloch, who discussed "needing a plan".

Another associate was snared with £146,000 of dirty cash weeks later. He has since been jailed for almost three years.

Detectives made a further breakthrough after French and Dutch law authorities smashed the EncroChat messaging service favoured by criminals.

MacDonald was found to use the handle 'wiredbuilder' with Balloch known as 'noblewarrior'.

McElroy said: "A substantial number of messages were recovered from these handles from between March to June 2020.

"They detail involvement in the sale and supply of drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis on a significant scale."

In one encrypted text, MacDonald stated he "sells approximately 50kg of top quality cocaine a month".

The value of this would have been £1.9m a time.

McElroy added: "The scale of the operation is illustrated when MacDonald discusses the reliability of a courier and he said: 'Not when there's 4 and 5 mil on the line, mate'."

In a further message, he boasted: "We still got million odd quid after bills are paid."

Balloch, of Rutherglen, meantime indicated to an associate that "1.5million a month" in cash was being "moved around".

The pair were arrested within weeks of each other in November 2021. Neither made any comment at the time.

The court was today told MacDonald is "trying to give something back" while behind bars by getting involved in "programmes" to help other inmates.

Following the sentencing, Sineidin Corrins, Deputy Procurator Fiscal for Specialist Casework at COPFS, said: “These two individuals were responsible for the supply of drugs on a huge scale.  

“They failed in their attempts to conceal the money they made from their crimes. 

“They are now serving lengthy prison sentences thanks to a successful COPFS prosecution and an extensive police operation to tackle and disrupt serious organised crime.  

“I hope that these convictions and the sentence send a strong message to others involved in this kind of criminal behaviour and demonstrates the ability of police and prosecutors to investigate, prepare and prosecute serious and organised crime of this nature.  

“We are targeting all people who threaten communities across Scotland, not only drug couriers but also those who direct their movements.  

“The Crown will continue working with the police and other agencies as a member of Scotland’s Serious and Organised Crime Taskforce to ensure that these crimes are detected and those responsible prosecuted using all measures at our disposal.”  

The pair will now be the subject of confiscation orders under proceeds of crime legislation. 

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