14 arrested in 'skunk' supply probe
Fourteen people have been arrested and drugs worth £800,000 seized as part of an international investigation into the illegal supply of "skunk" cannabis into Northern Ireland.
Four men and two women aged between 26 and 33 were detained in Northern Ireland while eight people were arrested in Italy.
An undisclosed sum of cash was also seized in Northern Ireland.
Searches carried out yesterday targeted an alleged crime gang that has been involved in money laundering and drugs trafficking activities.
The PSNI is the lead investigator in an operation involving police colleagues from the Italian Carabiniere and the UK's National Crime Agency.
Police carried out 10 searches in Belfast, Greenisland, Bangor, Newtownards and Ballywalter and seized "skunk" cannabis with an estimated street value in the region of £800,000.
The arrests in Italy were made after searches were carried out in the Prato and Bologna areas.
The officer leading the investigation, Detective Inspector Andy Dunlop from PSNI's Organised Crime Branch, said: "We believe we have established the source of a major supply of herbal cannabis trafficked into Northern Ireland.
"This is a substantial multi-agency international investigation which has involved various investigative tactics and methods - resulting in these searches, seizures and arrests.
"We have seized £800,000 of herbal cannabis but our inquiries lead us to believe that much more has already been sent from Italy to Northern Ireland.
"In recent months, officers in Organised Crime Branch and local districts have seized £1.2 million worth of herbal cannabis as part of this operation.
"All illegal drugs are harmful but this 'skunk' variety can be particularly dangerous because it can significantly increase a user's likelihood of experiencing a psychotic episode.
"In Northern Ireland, we have searched properties in Belfast, Greenisland, Bangor, Newtownards and Ballywalter.
"Those arrested are being questioned at Bangor police station on suspicion of the importation of cannabis and conspiracy to supply cannabis and money laundering.
"This is a developing investigation and we are maintaining close contact with our colleagues in the Italian Carabiniere and the National Crime Agency as well as a number of other law enforcement agencies in the UK and Ireland.
"Our objective is to ensure we identify and apprehend as many of those allegedly involved in this criminality and bring them before the courts, as well as seize drugs and as many criminal assets as possible.
"Our inquiries will continue for some time."
Stormont's Justice Minister David Ford said:" I welcome the news of another success in the fight against drugs in Northern Ireland.
"The fact that the PSNI were supported in their efforts by the National Crime Agency, among others, shows the good working relationship which exists between the two organisations and which can now be built on when the NCA becomes fully operational here in the near future."