Page last updated at 12:11 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 13:11 UK

Gang link to 8.4m cannabis haul

Some of the cannabis plants recovered by the drugs squad
Some of the cannabis plants recovered by the drugs squad

Chinese criminal gangs are believed to be behind an 8.4m cannabis haul in Northern Ireland, police have said.

Forty-five people, all from South East Asia, have been charged in connection with the find.

More than 14,500 cannabis plants were seized and a number of so-called "cannabis factories" across Northern Ireland have been shut down.

Police believe gangs based in Great Britain have switched their focus to Northern Ireland.

"Police believe these factories are linked to organised crime," said Detective Inspector Peter Moore.

"Organised crime gangs have turned their attention from mainland UK to Northern Ireland, presumably because they thought they wouldn't get caught. They were wrong."

"We believe the cannabis is being cultivated here for distribution and sale outside Northern Ireland. Our investigations are continuing with a number of other agencies to determine the scale and extent of the network."

A total of 55 properties were searched as part of an operation dating back to late last year which resulted in 56 arrests.

Officers recovered 14,500 cannabis plants with a street value of 7.3m and 113 kilos of herbal cannabis with a street value of 1.1m. The cannabis was being grown in rented houses across Northern Ireland.

They also seized 120,000 in cash as well as substantial amounts of cannabis growing equipment.

Police believe those involved are not local Chinese people but individuals from outside Northern Ireland.

Peter Moore said: "Officers have met with representatives of the local Chinese community and they are as outraged as all other right-thinking members of our society."

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More than 14,500 plants were seized

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