Two Chinese men were remanded into custody on Saturday accused of involvement in a multi-million pound cannabis smuggling operation.
Appearing in the dock of Newtownards Magistrates Court were 34-year-old Zhenchao Chen and Baosen Zhao (53), jointly charged with importing class B cannabis and conspiring with four co-accused “and others” to unlawfully supply cannabis on dates between 1 January this year and 24 March this year.
The importation charges arise after officers from Organised Crime Branch recovered £800,000 of super-strength cannabis known as ‘skunk’ along with cash during searches in Belfast, Greenisland, Bangor, Newtownards and Ballywalter.
Eight others have also been held in Italy following raids on three cannabis factories by anti-Mafia officers in the Carabinieri in the Prato and Bologna areas with the PSNI describing those who have been arrested as “significant members of a crime gang” and it is understood that the gang has successfully smuggled large amounts of herbal ‘skunk’ cannabis in from Italy.
At Ards court, Chen, with an address at Annadale Flats in south Belfast, was further charged with cultivating cannabis at a property on the Newry Road, Mullaghbawn and possessing the class B drug with intent to supply on dates between January 1 and April 1 this year.
Those charges come after police uncovered a drugs factory outside Newry and seized 530 cannabis plants, said to be worth around £275,000 and a man arrested during the raid, Vietnamese man 40-year-old Tien Duc, is set to appear in Newry Magistrates Court charged in connection with that.
Defence lawyers for Chen and Zhao confirmed the pair understood their respective charges but did not apply for bail and that being the case, District Judge Mark Hamill remanded them into custody.
Chen is however to apply for bail this Friday April 10 when he will appear with his five co-accused via videolink.
Zhao, with an address at Coolfin Street, also in south Belfast, was remanded to appear again on 24 April.
Last month, five other men, 37-year-old chef Wenjie He of no fixed abode, unemployed 29-year-old Jianwen Chen, from Pine Way in Belfast, Jiazhu Cia (30), unemployed from Dunleath Drive in Ballywalter, 32-year-old chef Wei Zou from Beechwood Avenue in Bangor, and kitchen worker Yong He (33) of no fixed address in Belfast, stood in the same dock where they were all jointly charged with conspiring together on dates between January 1 last year and March 24 this year to supply cannabis to others.
Cia, He and Zou were also jointly charged with transferring criminal property, Cia and He are charged with possessing criminal property and Zou faces a further charge of converting criminal property.
In addition, Zou is accused of importing cannabis to his Beechwood Avenue home while He and Cia are charged with importing cannabis to Cia’s home at Dunleath Drive on 24 March this year.