Bail refused to suspect in £15m drug dmuggling plot

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A man allegedly linked to the trafficking of £15 million worth of cannabis into Northern Ireland must remain in custody, a High Court judge has ruled.

Jianwen Chen was refused bail amid claims he was involved in renting some of the properties where drugs parcels were posted to from Italy.

Some of the evidence seized by police investigating the plot

Some of the evidence seized by police investigating the plot

Prosecutors said 80 packages, each containing around 10 kilos of cannabis, were sent via a courier service between January 2014 and February this year.

Addresses in Belfast, Greenisland, Bangor, Newtownards, Ballywalter, Larne and Ballyclare were among those allegedly used in the international smuggling plot.

Police were alerted after the delivery company detected a smell of the drugs coming from the last two packets to be sent.

An international investigation was launched, with PSNI detectives joining forces with National Crime Agency and Italian Carbinieri officers.

Philip Henry, prosecuting, said the drugs delivered into Northern Ireland had an estimated street value of £15m.

Another 8,500 cannabis plants, believed to be worth in excess of £4m, were seized during raids on three growing factories in the Prato area of Italy.

Charges have been brought against 16 people for alleged roles in the racket.

Chen, a Chinese national of Pine Way in Belfast, is accused of conspiracy to supply and importing Class B drugs.

The court heard searches were carried out at another address in the south of the city associated with him.

Although no cannabis was found there, the prosecution claimed the property is linked to multiple taxi journeys to other properties where consignments had been sent.

Chen’s mobile phone was also allegedly used in the process to rent out some of the houses.

Tenancy agreements for two of the properties were seized from his car, according to Mr Henry.

The barrister contended: “We suggest there’s a strong prima facie case on his involvement in this larger drugs operation.

“He’s not a gardener as such, he’s involved in tenancy agreements, setting things up which demonstrates a degree of responsibility.”

Declan Quinn, defending, attacked the strength of evidence against his client and stressed a legal bid to have the prosecution halted may be mounted at a later atage.

Mr Quinn argued there is no proof Chen was ever in a taxi going to the properties under investigation.

He also described the links to other addresses as “remote”.

“I don’t think there’s any suggestion that this man is directing a £15m operation by himself, or in conjunction with others,” the lawyer added.

“The case against this applicant is far from proved.”

But denying bail, Mr Justice O’Hara held there was a risk of reoffending.

The judge said: “I accept, on the prosecution information, there’s a substantial case against him.”