Northern Ireland

Doubt over Portadown cannabis accused's identity

A Chinese man charged over a £2.8m cannabis factory has been granted bail after doubts about his identity eased.

Belfast High Court was told Seng Qing is no longer suspected of being an Argentine national using bogus papers.

The 38-year-old, of no fixed address, faces seven charges in connection with a drug growing operation in Portadown.

Hundreds of cannabis plants and more than 1,000 stocks were said to have been found at a house on Thomas Street last October.

The suspected factory was fully kitted out with lights and production equipment, prosecutors previously disclosed.

Police estimate the street value of drugs harvested there to be around £2.8m.

Officers uncovered the operation following earlier searches of another property in Craigavon.

Mr Qing is charged with cultivating cannabis, possessing criminal property, possessing Class B drugs and being concerned in their production and supply.

'Weak link'

At least two other men are also accused of being involved with the factory.

Mr Qing's barrister argued there is only "a very weak link" between him and the factory.

It was also stressed that no forensic evidence connected him to the plants.

The accused had remained in custody amid continuing uncertainty over his identity.

But defence counsel Joe Brolly told the court on Wednesday: "It is no longer suspected that he is an Argentinian national."

Fingerprints sent to Irish immigration authorities were said to have confirmed he made an asylum application in 2009.

Mr Brolly added: "He was trafficked into Ireland in the first place; he was escorted and then his passport removed from him."

The judge, Mr Justice Weatherup decided to grant bail having been satisfied the accused had not travelled under a false identity.

Mr Qing, who works at a Chinese restaurant in Belfast, was released to live at an address in the south of the city.

He was curfewed and ordered to have no contact with his co-accused.