Vietnamese gang leaders jailed over £6m cannabis haul
The ringleaders of a Vietnamese crime gang have been jailed after police seized 2.5 tonnes of cannabis worth about £6m in raids across south Wales.
A total of 21 people have been sentenced in a case going back to 2017 after dozens of cannabis factories were uncovered across the region and beyond.
One of the defendants initially claimed to be 14 years old, but police proved he was actually aged 26.
The gang leaders were sentenced at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court on Friday.
Bang Xuan Luong, 44, was sentenced to eight years in prison. His partner, 42-year-old Vu Thi Thu Thuy, was jailed for six years and Tuan Anh Pham, 20, who was described in court as the "IT Man", received five years.
An investigation into a cannabis factory in the Cynon Valley led officers from South Wales Police's Force Intelligence and Organised Crime Unit (FIOCU) to a string of others across south Wales, Gwent and Dyfed-Powys force areas.
The gang, all from Vietnam, were arrested as part of Operation Violet Panama, which saw the three police forces and the National Crime Agency raid 19 addresses in November 2017.
In addition to 15 cannabis factories, the investigation led to the detection of more than 30 further factories and storage facilities across Wales and as far afield as Coventry, all linked to the gang.
During hearings at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court, 19 of 23 defendants plead guilty to conspiracy to produce a Class B drug, two people were found guilty by a jury and two others were acquitted.
The court heard that the "industrial-scale" operation was expected to have netted the leaders of the gang somewhere in the region of £25m, with much of the proceeds sent back to Vietnam.
During initial court proceedings, the court heard the gang's kingpin, Bang Xuan Luong oversaw the operation from his five-bedroom home in Aberdare.
Pots of £50 notes were found when officers raided his address.
His co-accused, Tuan Anh Pham was said to have been responsible for renting the properties and their upkeep, the court heard.
Such was the complexity of the network, with the majority of the gang having entered the country illegally and holding false documents, investigating officers gave each defendant an alias - all brands of breakfast cereals - in order to identify them and the role they each played in the conspiracy.
Further adding to the complicated investigation, one of the defendants - Khanh Van Pham, 26 - claimed to be 14 years old and officers had to spend months working to prove this was not the case.
He pleaded guilty to two separate counts of cannabis production, and perverting the course of justice and was jailed for four years, 10 months in July.
"The convictions conclude a protracted and complex investigation in to what was an extremely organised and lucrative operation," said Det Ch Insp Dean Taylor from South Wales Police.
Iwan Jenkins, from the CPS, said evidence including notes and text messages were translated into English and confirmed defendants' involvement in the drugs conspiracy.
"Mobile phones showed the location history of some of their devices which were found to have visited cannabis factories linked to the gang," he said.
Twenty gang members received custodial sentences:
- Bang Xuan Luong, 44, of Aberdare - jailed for eight years
- Lan Dinh, 38, of Llanelli - jailed for four years, two months
- Tuan Van Doan, 33, of Caerphilly - jailed for two years
- Tran Van Giang, 32, of Aberdare - jailed for three years
- Quang Lam, 34, of Llanelli - jailed for five years
- Toan Van Nguyen, 39, of Aberdare - jailed for four years, nine months
- Hiue Quang Pham, 29, of Cardiff - jailed for two years
- Pham Quang Hai (formerly Long Pham), 19, from Ceredigion - jailed for two years, three months
- Tuan Anh Pham, 20, of Aberdare, - jailed for five years
- Vu Thi Thu Thuy, 41, of Aberdare - jailed for six years
- Van Lang Tran, 24, of Cardiff - jailed for two years
- Xuan Le Truong, 31, of Cardiff - jailed for two years
- Doan Duc Vu, 40, of Llanelli - jailed for four years
- Dung Phu Vu, 35, of Aberdare - jailed for two years, four months
- Dung Van Vu, 27, of Rhondda - jailed for five years, five months
- Ngocbao Vu, 22, of Aberdare - jailed for six years, five months
- Toan Van Vu, 52, of Cardiff - jailed for three years, six months
- Khanh Van Pham, 26, from Newport - jailed for four years, 10 months
- Khuong Van Luong, 35, of Cardiff - jailed for two years
- Vu Phung Luu, 19, from Aberdare - jailed for two years, eight months
- Trang Thanh Tran, 37, of Llanelli - received a two-year sentence, suspended for 12 months