Drug accused ‘dated singer’

Singer Martina Topley-Bird, who has been nominated for the Panasonic Mercury Music prize, for her album "Quixotic" Tuesday 22 July 2003 attends the launch of the event held at the Royal Commonwealth Club, central London, where Jools Holland announced the 12-album shortlist competing for the annual award. See PA Story Mercury. PA Photo Ian West.
Singer Martina Topley-Bird, who has been nominated for the Panasonic Mercury Music prize, for her album "Quixotic" Tuesday 22 July 2003 attends the launch of the event held at the Royal Commonwealth Club, central London, where Jools Holland announced the 12-album shortlist competing for the annual award. See PA Story Mercury. PA Photo Ian West.
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A restaurant owner accused of being involved in a multi-million pound drug smuggling plot was dating a pop star, a court heard.

Marco Russo, aged 41, told Sheffield Crown Court he ran II Giardino restaurant in Chelsea, London, with business partner Frank Babar until September 2011.

When the restaurant closed for refurbishment, Russo said he became ‘romantically involved’ with popstar Martina Topley-Bird, who had songs in the UK charts with Tricky and Massive Attack.

Russo said he spent time at her flat in Chelsea and also at her family mansion in Somerset, and had taken her to London Fashion Week.

Babar is accused of importing six consignments of cocaine from Mexico hidden inside scissor lifts and using the restaurant as one of several businesses to launder drugs money, charges he denies.

The prosecution say Russo was involved in the final importation and possibly a later aborted attempt to bring high purity cocaine into the country - for sale on the streets of South Yorkshire and further afield.

Giving evidence in his defence, Russo said Babar invested in the restaurant in 2009, but it was struggling to make money despite being extremely busy during the summer months.

Russo, who denies knowing about the drugs plot, is accused of creating an email account to help orchestrate the importation of the cocaine.

When asked by his barrister, Martin McCarthy, what his reaction was to finding out about the drugs, Russo said: “I was shocked and very scared.”

Earlier this week Babar told the jury Princes William and Harry had visited II Giardino.

Russo, of London and Babar, of Richmond, Surrey, deny conspiracy to evade prohibition on the importation of a Class A drug, and Babar denies conspiracy to conceal criminal property.

Richard Stead, aged 45, of Greenfoot Lane, Wilthorpe, Barnsley, denies conspiracy to supply class A and class B drugs.

The trial continues.