Human trafficking victim 'survived on dog food in Armagh cannabis farm'
A man discovered working at a cannabis factory in Co Armagh was a human trafficking victim surviving on tins of dog food, the High Court heard.
To Duc Tien said he was controlled by Vietnamese criminals to whom he had paid $27,000 to be smuggled into Ireland.
Details emerged as the 32-year-old was granted bail on charges linked to the seizure of £275,000 worth of drugs from a house in Mullaghbawn. Tien, of no fixed address, is accused of importing, cultivating, possessing and conspiracy to supply cannabis.
He faces further counts of dishonestly using electricity and causing it to be diverted. The Vietnamese national was arrested during a raid on the property in April last year.
Police swooped on the house as part of a wider operation against an international drugs smuggling racket. That investigation, in partnership with the National Crime Agency and Italian Carabinieri police, has also led to arrests and seizures in Italy.
Prosecution counsel Kate McKay said three rooms in the house on Newry Road had been turned into a cannabis factory, with 530 plants recovered.
"This applicant was in the kitchen and said he was an illegal immigrant controlled by a Vietnamese crime gang," Mrs McKay told the court. "He said he had been charged $27,000 to be smuggled into Dublin to work."
The accused claimed his passport was taken from him before he was handed over to a Chinese man who took him to the house which was raided. Mrs McKay accepted Tien appeared to be a human trafficking victim. Despite concerns he may flee, she confirmed that a migrant help organisation was prepared to provide him with accommodation in Belfast. Defence barrister Michael Ward also stressed the hardships allegedly inflicted on his client.
"I'm instructed that in the house he was found in, there were half-eaten tins of dog food," Mr Ward disclosed. "That is what this man had been surviving on in that particular cannabis factory."
Granting bail for Tien to live in Belfast, His Honour Judge Lynch ordered him to surrender any travel documents and report to police.