£500,000 Co Down cannabis factory 'linked to Vietnamese crime organisation'
A £500,000 cannabis factory uncovered above a village restaurant is linked to a Vietnamese crime organisation operating across the UK, the High Court heard today.
Prosecutors claimed a man working as a cook at the premises in Greyabbey, Co Down had a significant role in the alleged racket.
Dat Chung Duong faces charges of cultivating, possessing and conspiring to supply cannabis.
The 62-year-old, of Stevenson Park, Lurgan, is further accused of dishonestly using and diverting electricity, and transferring up to £26,000 in criminal property.
Duong was granted bail but banned from entering the village of Greyabbey.
He was arrested days after police forced their way into rooms above the New White Satin Chinese restaurant on August 23 and discovered a large-scale growing operation.
Plants, at various stages of growth, with an estimated street value of between £350,000 and £500,000 were seized.
Keys to the restaurant and upstairs quarters were later found in Duong's house, the court heard.
The restaurant owner and a woman found in a bedroom have also been charged. All three accused are originally from Vietnam.
During Duong's bail application he repeatedly interrupted to protest his innocence, claiming he had only been working at the restaurant for days "cutting the chicken and vegetables".
But Adrian Higgins, prosecuting, said he is suspected of being part of a wider criminal operation.
"Police believe this applicant to be a member of an organised Vietnamese crime gang," he told the court.
"It has lost approximately £350,000-£500,000 worth of drugs and £20,000 worth of equipment, which police believe to be a major blow to this organisation."
He revealed that another two suspects are still being hunted, and claimed that more offences could be committed in a bid to recoup the financial blow of having the cannabis seized.
Mr Higgins added: "Police believe if granted bail this defendant would interfere with the apprehension of these persons.
"This crime gang originated in Vietnam but is now based partly in the UK."
Joel Lindsay, defending, said his client discovered the keys after the owner left them at his house and was planning to return them.
A series of money transfers to Vietnam worth £26,000 in total were made by Duong on behalf of friends who did not have a bank account, he told the court.
Disputing claims the accused may flee if released, Mr Lindsay added that he has lived in the UK for the last 30 years.
Granting bail, Mr Justice Weatherup banned Duong from applying for any passport and ordered him to report to police daily.
Belfast Telegraph Digital