Five charged after police seize £2m cannabis haul linked to Chinese Triads
Police have seized £2m worth of cannabis in Belfast as part of an investigation into an organised crime group linked to Chinese Triads and paramilitaries.
Detectives from the PSNI's Organised Crime Group, assisted by the Home Office, carried out searches at seven locations across Belfast on Thursday.
Around 100kg of cannabis, with a street value of £2m, was seized by officers.
Four men, aged 28, 39, 46 and 59, and a 34-year-old woman have been charged with a number of offences including conspiracy to supply a Class B controlled drug, transferring criminal property, possession of a blade and immigration offences. They are all due to appear at Belfast Magistrates' Ccourt on Saturday. As is normal procedure all charges are reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service.
Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton, from the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, said they were Chinese nationals.
He said detectives are looking into the possibility that the drugs were being sold to paramilitary groups operating in Northern Ireland.
"This is a significant haul which demonstrates our continuing commitment to removing dangerous drugs from our communities," he added.
"There will be people who do not view cannabis as a dangerous drug.
"In fact, there will be some who would argue that it should be legalised.
"That is a debate for other people, and as it stands right now, it is an illegal drug."
He continued: "We have a great concern around cannabis. We see it as being the backbone of the drugs economy here in Northern Ireland. Its impact is far from harmless.
"We then also see associated violence, threats and intimidation linked to the activities of the groups who peddle it here and their attempts to maintain control of the markets."
Mr Singleton described the latest seizures as "significant" and praised detectives for their work.
He said: "This is an investigation into the activities of a transnational organised crime group, who have a footprint here in Northern Ireland and whose reach extends well beyond that."
Detectives, he added, did not believe the cannabis was grown in Northern Ireland but had been imported from elsewhere.
He said the gang behind the drugs may be linked to Chinese transnational organised crime syndicates based in China called the Triads.
With the festive party season approaching, Mr Singleton said he wanted people "to think about where their money is going before they hand over cash for recreational drugs".
"Many people who spend money on a casual transaction at the weekend think that it isn't harming anyone else; the reality couldn't be further from the truth," he said.
"Not only is it illegal to purchase these drugs but it fuels the local drug trade which causes irreparable damage and loss to many families and individuals whose lives it destroys."
He added that spending money on drugs contributed to violence and intimidation inflicted by what he described as "merciless" crime gangs.
The latest PSNI figures show there were 6,771 drug seizures in Northern Ireland in the 12 months to October.
Between January 2017 and 2018, cannabis was the most confiscated drug with 5,056 cases.
Cocaine was the next most seized drug with just 949 cases.