Northern Ireland

£600,000 cannabis operation accused remanded in custody

Cannabis Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Police found cannabis factories across Northern Ireland

The alleged head of a cannabis growing operation worth more than £600,000 must remain in custody, a High Court judge has ruled.

Luong Bui, 41, is accused of running factories across Northern Ireland, including one warehouse which allegedly had living quarters for his employees.

The PSNI seized 1,200 cannabis plants during a raid on an industrial unit in Comber, County Down last year.

Smaller factories were also uncovered in Belfast and Coalisland.

At the High Court, Mr Justice Maguire refused bail and rejected suggestions of delays in the case.

Mr Bui, of Lisburn Road in Belfast, is facing charges of conspiracy to supply and produce Class B drugs, being concerned in their production, possessing criminal property, dishonestly using electricity, and assisting unlawful immigration.

Mr Bui, from Vietnam but now a British citizen, is accused of committing the offences between April 1 and December 5, 2017, following the police raid on an industrial unit on the Glen Road in Comber.

A previous court heard the warehouse had been divided into 10 rooms split over two floors.

Two other men were spotted on the premises, although one of them managed to escape.

The second man was detained and told police he had travelled with others in the back of a lorry from Vietnam to the United Kingdom.

He then claimed that he was flown from England to Northern Ireland before being driven to the warehouse.

The man said he had been there for about a month-and-a-half, that he received instructions on how to care for the plants and that he resided in living quarters within the factory, according to the prosecution.

Opposing bail at an earlier hearing, a Crown lawyer contended that Mr Bui heads an organisation linked to a high-end crime gang operating on both sides of the Irish border.

Defence counsel argued that his client runs a horticultural supplies business which legitimately provides equipment such as plant pots, carbon filters and soil found at the Comber warehouse.

He mounted a fresh bid for bail based on the time taken to progress the case on Tuesday.

But rejecting the application, Mr Justice Maguire said: "The fact that five months has expired at this point doesn't create the momentum where the court would deviate from the normal approach of seeking to sure the protection of the public from those who may be engaged in serious and organised drug activity."