Lithuanian man headed Belfast heroin trade, court told
The heroin trade in Belfast was headed by a Lithuanian man with drug runners working for him across the city, the High Court has heard.
Police mounted a four-month undercover sting operation to target those accused of involvement in the drugs trade, a judge was told. Secret body cameras were deployed and a meeting set up with the suspected boss.
Details emerged as bail was refused to two men from the Baltic state accused of being linked to the racket.
Gintas Vengalis (37), with an address at Tavanagh Street, Belfast, faces four charges of being concerned in the supply of heroin, possession with intent to supply, and entering into arrangement to acquire criminal property.
His co-accused, 22-year-old Roman Michailov, of Chobham Street in the city, is charged with possessing class A drugs with intent to supply and acquiring criminal property. They were detained after police ran a dedicated operation against heroin dealers in central Belfast from last December until the end of March.
According to prosecution barrister Stephanie Boyd, Vengalis was the man in charge.
"Intelligence leads police to believe he is concerned as the head of a chain of supply into Belfast city centre," she told the court.
It was alleged that he uses a number of aliases and organised a meeting with plain-clothes police officers acting as buyers at a bar on February 26.
Mrs Boyd said: "During the meeting he openly discussed with the officers that he was known as 'Russian Anton' and had three runners working for him in Belfast."
She claimed he phoned another man who brought drugs to the bar, for which the undercover officers paid £700.
Setting out the case against Michailov, the barrister alleged he was one of the runners working for Vengalis.
He was caught selling £100 worth of heroin to an undercover officer, the court heard.
Mrs Boyd added: "He is on body cameras police were wearing and is seen to remove four wraps of drugs from his mouth."
Representing both accused, defence counsel Michael Boyd stressed that a strong challenge will be mounted at trial over how the evidence was gathered.
He said Michailov claims to have been asked to lift a package in the street and hand it to a stranger without knowing its contents.
According to Mr Boyd, Vengalis was never in possession of any heroin and repeatedly turned down telephone requests from undercover police seeking to buy drugs.