Police could have prejudiced attempts to secure bail by linking a £1m cannabis seizure to Triads while suspects were still being interviewed, a court heard yesterday.
Counsel for one of four men subsequently charged with drugs offences following searches in Belfast hit out at how the case was portrayed to the media before questioning had been completed.
Declan Quinn told the city’s magistrates court: “Mid interviews the PSNI released a press statement saying this was a Triad-linked crime.
“The PSNI in doing that were potentially prejudicing a bail application to the custody sergeant because a superintendent, in the media, was really playing this matter up.”
Concerns were raised as the four accused appeared in the dock following Wednesday’s police operation.
Abakar Hassan Mohamad, 38, of Woodstock Road in Belfast, 29-year-old Ping Li, Yuheng Chen, 21, and 29-year-old Li Hong - all of no fixed abode - are jointly charged with possessing and conspiring to supply Class B drugs.
Li, Chen and Hong are also accused of immigration offences.
Herbal cannabis was uncovered during searches of properties in north and west Belfast.
Two vehicles were also stopped on the M2. Following the seizures and arrests police put the drugs on display.
A detective superintendent told the media that the 50kg cannabis haul is believed to be linked to a south-east Asian Triad gang.
Mr Quinn, representing Ping Li, was critical of police conduct while his client was still being questioned.
“My solicitor, in the course of the last interview and in the context of that press release having been made, specifically asked whether there was any evidence linking my client to Triads or organised crime,” he said.
“The investigating officer said no and wasn’t able to say why senior police were on the media painting a certain picture of this case.”
District Judge Fiona Bagnall remanded all four in custody to appear on later dates.