THE Bolton-born leader of a gang that imported huge amounts of drugs into the UK was nicknamed "Butlin" after he likened a Spanish prison to a holiday camp, a court has heard.

Philip Baron, aged 58, was a kingpin in an international cartel which smuggled cocaine from South America to Spain and then to the UK.

He imported two shipments of cocaine totalling 132lb (60kg) which had an estimated street value of £19.2 million, a sentencing hearing at Liverpool Crown Court was told.

Baron owned yachts and sports cars as well as luxury villas in Spain, all funded by drug money, the court was told.

Baron has admitted three counts including conspiracy to import cocaine between March and November 2008, conspiracy to import cannabis between September 2005 and September 2009, and money laundering.

William Baker, opening the case for the prosecution, told the court that a recording device had been placed in the home of the defendant's daughter, Rachel Baron.

Mr Baker said the device "recorded her saying her father was called Butlin because he had likened a Spanish prison he had been in to a holiday camp".

Rachel Baron was jailed for three years at an earlier hearing for picking up and distributing cash on her father's behalf, the court heard.

Baron was "one of the organisers of a highly sophisticated criminal enterprise that imported drugs to the UK", the court was told.

Mr Baker said: "He was involved in the importation of 60kg of cocaine in two shipments in November 2008 and about 31,500kg (69,446lb) of cannabis in numerous shipments between 2005 and 2009.

"The drugs were concealed in document boxes labelled as items such as technical manuals or brochures."

The boxes were shipped from Spain using legitimate couriers to "virtual offices" or rented premises from where they were collected and supplied on.

"It was a highly profitable enterprise that generated huge sums of cash," Mr Baker said.

"On Philip Baron's instructions, Rachel Baron spent £59,824 on eight watches at Lepps Jewellers in Altrincham in Cheshire," Mr Baker said.

"She also paid a £5,000 deposit for a Bentley Continental GT Coupe at a car dealer in Leeds. Philip Baron paid the balance of the purchase price - £80,925 - by bank transfers."

Mr Baker told the court that they had not got "anywhere near to the bottom of Philip Baron's finances" which he referred to as "opaque".

The court heard that Baron, who is balding with grey hair and was wearing glasses and a dark suit, sourced the cocaine from Costa Rica after making a trip there in November 2008 when he stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Jose.

When the cocaine was discovered by the authorities it was found to be of 83 per cent purity - street level seizures commonly have purities of below 10 per cent, the court heard.

The former HGV driver, who was living in Ireland, near five-star golf resort the K Club, had fought extradition to the UK for two years but was brought back in November 2012.

He and his associates ran a smuggling operation which police say was in the top 10 biggest ever uncovered in Britain.

While authorities in Ireland thought he ran a company which rented deckchairs in Spain, he was actually a key figure in the international drugs importing ring.

According to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the gang smuggled about 52 tonnes of drugs over 15 years and laundered millions of pounds of their illegal profits.

They were brought down by evidence including calls made by accomplice Walter Callinan, aged 60, from prison, which were listened to by police.

In one conversation, he was heard bragging that the authorities had "f*** all", but in a later call to Baron he realised that key documents had been found at the home of money launderer Malcolm Carle.

Callinan was recorded saying: "We're f***** on it, mate, they've got that much documentation. F****** hell, the Pope wouldn't get out of it."

Twenty-eight members of the gang have already been convicted and jailed for their roles in the scam.

Timothy Forte, defending, said his client accepted that he had played an "organising and leading role".

He said Baron was of previous good character and had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

Mr Forte said Baron had been making money from "the cannabis enterprise" and had "dipped his toe" into the cocaine market when he was asked to come in by another drugs kingpin as a "troubleshooter".

Judge David Aubrey QC adjourned sentencing until 10am on Thursday.