A “playboy” who sparked fears of a fresh Novichok attack when he collapsed in a Salisbury restaurant has been sentenced to 11 years in his absence after he was convicted of dealing drugs.
Alex King, 42, went on the run in December after a string of failed attempts to avoid justice, including his false claim to have been poisoned in a branch of Prezzo, where he was dining with his Russian-born wife, Anna Shapiro.
The scheme sparked a major incident in September, six months after Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia fell ill shortly after leaving Zizzi, another Italian dining chain in the city, after coming into contact with the deadly nerve agent.
The previous month, King and his wife had to be rescued while sailing off the Welsh coast by the RNLI after the boat they bought in Holyhead, north Wales, ran out of fuel.
His “bizarre” party lifestyle was laid bare in Southwark Crown Court, which heard he sold drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine, and arranged high-class escorts, including his wife, to make money.
No hint was given in court as to King’s whereabouts as he was sentenced in his absence on Friday, after he was convicted of two charges of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, one charge of conspiracy to supply Class B drugs and one charge of conspiracy to supply Class C drugs following a trial.
The court heard he was last seen leaving a flat with his wife near Harley Street, in central London, on December 17 last year.
“They were seen by his landlord, the pair of them, loading up the car with their property, both healthy, leaving an address he was living at in breach of his bail conditions, and they have not been seen since,” said Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith.
“His behaviour up to the trial date is not relevant to this sentence.
“It may well be relevant when he is arrested and faces a Bail Act offence.”
King’s associate, Baljit Gill, 38, who lived with his parents in Welling, south east London, was jailed for nine years after he was found guilty of two charges of conspiring to sell Class A drugs after a separate trial.
Police found King in bed with Shapiro when they raided his flat in Marylebone, central London, which cost thousands of pounds a month to rent, on June 29 2016.
Officers found a block of 90%-pure cocaine, MDMA powder, ecstasy pills bearing the Just Eat logo, crack cocaine, ketamine and diazepam, with a street value of around £60,000 in a safe.
Sebastian Gardiner, defending Gill, described King as a “very bizarre” character who lived a “glamorous, albeit seedy, existence”, making money from arranging parties, selling drugs and supplying high-class escorts to his VIP clients.
“Mr King was a socialite who met with the rich and famous.
“He craved that sort of involvement and attention,” he said.
“He was always keen to have a photo of him taken with anybody deemed to be a celebrity.”
King had taken photographs and videos of drugs and himself with his merchandise, which were found on his mobile phone, while Gill had recorded himself arranging a drug deal.
Father-of-one Gill, a driver and delivery man, was linked to the plot by two mobile phones and fingerprints found on a box used to keep drugs.
The pair’s phones contained pictures of them posing with their expensive jewellery, while in one video clip of them “showing off”, Gill drives towards the camera in an Aston Martin, and says: “It’s a present from Alex King to me.”
Jurors heard King had not bought the car for his friend, who usually drove a Ford Focus.
King’s barrister, Leon Kazakos, said he has not had any contact with his client, who had been living a “flash lifestyle, which has been hired rather than purchased”.
The court heard how he feigned injury and illness to avoid his trial and on the evening of 16 September last year collapsed in the Salisbury Prezzo restaurant, where he was having dinner with Shapiro.
He was rushed to hospital, but released three days later after doctors found no poison, toxin or immediately obvious neurological reason to explain his symptoms.
Wiltshire Police said the force’s investigation is still ongoing into the incident at Prezzo.
The judge started proceedings to confiscate the pair’s criminal cash, warning King’s absence from court would not work in his favour.
He said: “If anyone in court does happen to know his whereabouts, that means that over the the next few months the prosecution are going to make investigations, estimate how much money has been made by this dealing, make an indication of what the defendants’ benefit has been from this drug dealing and an assessment of their realisable assets.
“If the defendant is not here to explain what he owns or doesn’t own, it may not be to his advantage.”