Man on trial over ‘substantial cannabis factory’

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A Chinese national has gone on trial accused of being involved in a “substantial cannabis factory’’ uncovered in north Belfast.

Ke Ping He, 46, of Balligan Gardens, Bangor, Co Down, denies charges of cultivating cannabis and dishonestly using electricity.

A prosecution lawyer told the jury at Belfast Crown Court that police searched a privately rented house at 24 Eia Street in the north of the city on October 29, 2014.

“During the search police discovered a large hole had been cut into the wall of No 26 to gain access to this property.

“No 26 was a disused Housing Executive property and it became apparent that this was being used for a cannabis factory/growing factory.

“This wasn’t a plant in a back bedroom. This was a very substantial operation. A lot of time and energy had been spent in starting it up.’’

The court was told that Northern Ireland Electricity was called to the property as electricity had been bypassed to the cannabis factory.

The jury heard that a Chinese national, Don Chuang, was located in a first-floor bedroom. They were told that Mr Chuang had since been convicted over the cannabis factory.

Judge Sandra Crawford was told that later that evening officers guarding the scene in an unmarked police car “became suspicious of a Chinese man who was showing a particular interest in No 24 Eia Street’’.

Added the prosecution lawyer: “He was stopped by a police officer and initially tried to walk on before he was eventually stopped. He identified himself as ‘Ke Pong’.

“He was searched and a set of keys were recovered from him and one of those keys opened the front door of No 24.’’

Following his arrest, the court heard, police found a building society receipt in his wallet which recorded £500 being deposited into a building society account.

The lawyer said this money was the monthly rental payment to the landlord of No 24 Eia Street.

During interview with police, the defendant said he had been picked up in Strabane by a ‘Mr Wang’ who drove him to Belfast, gave him the £500 and asked him to lodge the money into the building society account in Belfast city centre before catching a bus to north Belfast.

Ping He told police that ‘Mr Wang’ had given him the keys and asked him to check on No 24 Eia Street.

He indicated that he had been in the house before and the last time was in either September or November 2013.

The defendant denied knowing anything about the cannabis factory or the dishonest extraction of the electricity supply.

The lawyer told the jury: “The prosecution case is that this accused was part of a joint enterprise in this cannabis cultivation factory.”

At hearing.