A cannabis mule transporting £360,000 worth of the drug sprinted across four lanes of A9 traffic and hid from Perth police in a bush.
Officers stumbled on the 22kg haul when they pulled over Albanian duo Lulzim Musollari and Cezar Manciu at the Broxden roundabout.
The men parked in a layby and officers immediately smelled the enormous stash they were transporting from Aberdeen to Manchester.
While police carried out checks, passenger Manciu got out and ran across both carriageway lanes and hid in a field, a kilometre away from Musollari’s Kia Sportage.
After being found 45 minutes later, he told police: “It is only drugs, I’m not killing people – this is too much.”
Manciu, 32, from London, previously admitted possessing the Class B drug with intent to supply it on January 24 last year.
However co-accused Musollari, 55, denied the same offence and stood trial at Forfar Sheriff Court.
He told jurors he had no idea Manciu’s cargo was illicit and said he had no hint of the reeking load as he had lost his sense of smell since contracting Covid-19 at his wife’s 50th birthday party.
Fateful Manchester meeting
Married father-of-two Musollari moved to the UK in 2000 and gained citizenship in 2005.
The former chef explained he changed career and began work as a self-employed joiner.
He met co-accused Manciu while working in a Manchester restaurant in late 2022.
He said: “We were friends at the job, we had coffee together, no more than that.
“He asked me a favour.
“He asked me to come to Scotland, to give him a lift. He asked me the night before.
“He wanted to meet some friends in Scotland. It was to buy a car.
“He was desperate to come to Scotland – Aberdeen.”
Mussolari eventually agreed and they arrived in Aberdeen at around 7pm and booked a hotel.
Musollari explained they left the hotel at 8am the next morning and went to a Starbucks in a city shopping centre, where Manciu rang his friend.
He said they parted ways for two hours and he waited in a Caffe Nero before meeting again at his car.
Musollari continued: “He said he had some stuff – I didn’t ask.
“I went to the car park. He put all the stuff in.
“It was two boxes and two bags.
“Everything was locked and put in place.”
Stopped at Perth
Musollari explained he began to feel ill after 15 minutes of the drive back to Manchester.
He said Manciu explained it would be because he had just smoked hashish.
They stopped again at McDonald’s at Broxden because he felt ill and remained there for between 30 to 45 minutes.
Police flagged them down at around 5pm, almost immediately after they returned to the road, and they stopped in the first layby on the southbound carriageway of the A9.
He said he was told it was because the car had no MOT.
“After that, the police said to me this strong smell is on your car.
“I said he smoked hashish, it might be from him.
“He was nervous. I told him ‘why are you nervous?’
“He said to me it’s drugs in the car.
“I just tried to keep him in but he said ‘I’m going’.
“He opened the door and jumped.
“I didn’t move because it’s my car. It wasn’t my stuff.
Mule was only ‘trying to help’
Despite the strong smell of cannabis, Musollari said he could not have noticed because he caught Covid-19 in September 2020, the day of his wife’s 50th birthday.
“Me and my wife both lost our smell.
“My smell is gone, I can’t smell anything – zero.
“The smell didn’t come back. Even today, I’ve got no smell.”
Musollari’s wife of 28 years, a Manchester-based primary school teaching assistant, gave evidence to the same effect.
Musollari said if he had known about the drugs: “I was leaving the stuff on the street, I would have left it in Aberdeen, I wasn’t coming for that.”
In cross-examination, fiscal depute Callum Gordon asked: “Would you normally give friends lifts halfway across the country?”
Musollari replied: “We have each other. I was trying to help him.”
Hash and cash
Musollari’s car was forensically searched at Perth police station.
Two opaque black storage boxes were found in the boot, each containing bags of green herbal matter.
On the back seat, two holdalls were recovered, containing more bags of cannabis.
In total, the haul weighed 21.842kg.
The piles of pungent drugs were dragged into court to be shown to jurors.
Just over £484 in cash was also found in the car.
Jurors were told wholesale cannabis sells at between £4,500 and £6,500 per kilo in Tayside.
However, Detective Sergeant Derek Stewart explained 1.5g deals can fetch up to £25, meaning the seized haul could be worth anything between £98,000 and £360,000.
Following a two-day trial before Sheriff Mungo Bovey, the majority of jurors found Musollari guilty of possessing cannabis with the intent to supply.
The prosecution opted not to seek a conviction over allegations he drove without a valid MOT certificate or insurance.
His solicitor Paul McHugh explained his client had been remanded in prison for over a year and sought bail for the preparation of social work reports.
This was granted by Sheriff Bovey, who also continued consideration of an unopposed motion to forfeit the drugs and cash to a sentencing hearing on March 21.
The sheriff pointed out Manciu has previous convictions from Italy, which were “not insignificant.”
Manciu’s solicitor Steve Lafferty said: “He effectively takes a large part of the responsibility.”