Club boss denies drugs knowledge

First published in News Swindon Advertiser: Photograph of the Author by

A FORMER nightclub boss accused of cultivating drugs told a court he had no idea his good friend was renting two houses where cannabis was being grown.

At Bristol Crown Court, former Rouge owner Aurel Kollabani, 26, said he took a loan to buy the club, but instead of repaying the loan when he sold his share in the Swindon nightspot, he lent his brother Elis, 24, the money.

“It is a lap dancing club,” he said.

“I think I bought it in the summer of 2005 and sold it January 2006. I ran it with my partners Nicholas Farmer and Timothy Hinton. I sold it for £25,000 and kept all the money. Timothy Hinton paid me that money.”

Kollabani told the court was friends with Artan Veliu, 31, an Albanian who has pleaded guilty to his part in running the cannabis factories in Kipling Gardens, Upper Stratton, Torun Way, Haydon, Oxford and Cardiff.

When police raided the factories they found plants with a street value of £330,000.

“I’ve known him since I moved to Swindon because he’s Kosovan as well,” said Kollabani.

Kollabani said he had never been to Torun Way and that on one occasion when he was spotted by surveillance officers from Thames Valley Police’s organised crime unit, giving Veliu a lift to the area, he had just been helping his friend with his laundry.

“I think I drove there,” he said.

“I remember him leaving with carrier bags. He did his washing at my house because he didn’t have a washing machine.

“I took him to that car park because he asked me.”

Kollabani also said he knew his friend and co-accused Mustafa Duka was sometimes called Maximus, but claimed he had never heard the alias Maximus Napoli.

The trial had previously been told that houses in Torun Way, Haydon and Oxford were rented by a man using an Italian passport under the name Maximus Napoli, bearing Duka’s photograph.

Prosecutor James Patrick cross-examined Kollabani: “59 Torun Way was rented by Mr Duka. Did you know Mr Duka had a passport in the name Maximus Napoli?

“Mustafa Duka was somebody who lived with your brother. You accepted 59 Torun Way was rented by Mustafa Duka.

“He is living at your brother’s address and you hadn’t any idea that two different premises he rented were cannabis factories.

“The Albanian community in Swindon is quite close knit and you all know each other quite well, you played card games and dominoes, but Mr Duka never mentioned he rented the house where Artem Veliu lived.

“When you got together were probably comparing how you were doing, would you say ‘I’m having a difficult time’ or ‘I’ve had some racial difficulties’?

“Did he say ‘I’ve got this real problem where I’m living because it is being used to grow cannabis?

“Artem Veliu would come and do his washing at your house.

“Where you ever aware of a smell on his clothing?

“You were not aware of a pungent smell on his clothing, the smell of skunk cannabis?”

Kollabani replied no.

Kosovo Albanians Kollabani, his brother Elis Kollabani, 24, who lives at a separate address in Brunel Crescent, Mustafa Duka, 25, of no fixed address and Vietnamese woman Thi Hai Nugyen all deny conspiracy to cultivate cannabis.

l The trial continues.

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