A man hid £800,000-worth of herbal cannabis inside kitchen cabinets in a hired van as he attempted to smuggle a drug haul into Northern Ireland, a court has heard.
Mark McPhillips, whose address was given as care of Maghaberry Prison in Lisburn, was stopped on the outskirts of Londonderry during an intelligence-led police operation, a PSNI officer told the court.
The officer told District Judge Barney McElholm that the defendant had several properties in Spain and in the Republic and said police were afraid McPhillips would flee the jurisdiction because of the properties abroad.
He said several European police forces were also investigating the case.
The police witness described the defendant as “a leading member of an organised drugs criminal gang involved in smuggling high quality herbal cannabis into Northern Ireland from several European countries”.
The van driven by the defendant was stopped shortly after it crossed the Donegal-Derry border at Glengalliagh Road on the outskirts of Derry on May 14. Inside the furniture police found 800lb of drugs.
“After his arrest he was interviewed and he admitted collecting the hired furniture van from a location in Sligo. He said he knew he was carrying a quantity of drugs because he owes €40,000,” the officer added.
Defence solicitor Mr Seamus Quigley asked if McPhillips had claimed his client was a “drug mule”.
The officer said he had done so, but police disputed this and believed him to be a leading member of a crime gang.
The defendant is charged with possession of the drugs, possession with intent to supply the herbal cannabis and illegally importing it.
District Judge Barney McElholm described it as a very serious matter and there was a risk that McPhillips would commit further offences to recoup his losses if released. He refused bail and McPhillips will appear again on October 4 by video link.