'Skunk' cannabis seizure: Four Chinese men face court in Northern Ireland
Four Chinese men have been remanded into custody accused of involvement in a multi-million pound international cannabis smuggling operation.
Appearing in the dock of Newtownards Magistrates Court handcuffed to prison officers, the four men confirmed through an interpreter that they understood the respective charges against them.
All four, unemployed 29-year-old Jianwen Chen, from Pine Way in Belfast, Jiazhu Cia (30), unemployed from Dunleath Drive in Ballywalter, 32-year-old chef Wei Zou, from Beechwood Avenue in Bangor, and kitchen worker Yong He (33), of no fixed address in Belfast, are all jointly charged with conspiring together on dates between January 1 last year and March 24 this year to supply cannabis to others.
Cia, He and Zou are also jointly charged with transferring criminal property, Cia and He are charged with possessing criminal property and Zou faces a further charge of converting criminal property.
In addition, Zou is accused of importing cannabis to his Beechwood Avenue home while He and Cia are cheated with importing cannabis to Cia's home at Dunleath Drive on March 24 this year.
Giving evidence to the court, a detective said he believed he could connect each of the defendants to their respective charges.
The charges arise after officers from Organised Crime Branch recovered £800,000 of 'skunk' and cash during searches in Belfast, Greenisland, Bangor, Newtownards and Ballywalter.
Along with the four defendants, two women were also arrested but they were granted police bail pending further inquiries.
Eight others have also been held in Italy following raids by anti-Mafia officers while a 37-year-old man who was arrested in Birmingham has been brought to Northern Ireland for questioning.
The PSNI has described those who have been arrested as "significant members of a crime gang" and it is understood that the gang has successfully smuggled large amounts of herbal 'skunk' cannabis in from Italy.