Concern PSNI press release linked case to crime gang with 'no evidence,' court hears
Police could have prejudiced attempts to secure bail by linking a £1m cannabis seizure to Triads while suspects were still being interviewed, a court has heard.
Counsel for one of four men subsequently charged with drugs offences following searches in Belfast hit out at how the case was portrayed to the media before questioning had been completed.
Declan Quinn told the city's magistrates' court on Friday: "Mid-interviews, the PSNI released a press statement saying this was a Triad-linked crime.
"The PSNI in doing that were potentially prejudicing a bail application to the custody sergeant because a superintendent, in the media, was really playing this matter up."
Concerns were raised as the four accused appeared in the dock following Wednesday's police operation.
Abakar Hassan Mohamad, 38, of Woodstock Road in Belfast, 29-year-old Ping Li, Yuheng Chen, 21, and 29-year-old Li Hong - all of no fixed abode - are jointly charged with possessing and conspiring to supply Class B drugs.
Li, Chen and Hong are also accused of immigration offences.
Herbal cannabis was uncovered during searches of properties on the Shore Road in north Belfast and the Springfield Road in the west of the city.
Two vehicles were also stopped on the M2 motorway, close to the Moneynick junction.
Following the seizures and arrests police put the drugs on display at a station in Belfast.
A detective superintendent told the media that the 50kg cannabis haul is believed to be linked to a south-east Asian Triad gang operating in Northern Ireland.
None of the accused sought bail during the court hearing.
But Mr Quinn, representing Ping Li, was critical of police conduct while his client was still being questioned.
"My solicitor, in the course of the last interview and in the context of that press release having been made, specifically asked whether there was any evidence linking my client to Triads or organised crime," he said.
"The investigating officer said no and wasn't able to say why senior police were on the media painting a certain picture of this case."
Mr Quinn added: "We are extremely concerned that police are trying the case in the media before interviews are even completed."
District Judge Fiona Bagnall remanded all four defendants in custody to appear again by video-link on later dates.
Belfast Telegraph Digital