Gang used postal system to distribute cannabis
AN electrician was allegedly part of a gang who used Northern Ireland's postal system to distribute up to £860,000 worth of cannabis, a court has heard.
Police claimed WhatsApp messages link Ian Thompson to an operation involving money laundering and the delivery of drugs packages to different addresses.
A judge was also told the 51-year-old is believed to have a business interest in a bar in Benidorm - raising concerns he could frustrate the investigation by going to Spain.
Thompson, of Colonsay Park in Ballymena, appeared before Belfast Magistrates' Court charged with conspiring with three others to supply Class B dugs between December 2016 and April 2018.
He faces a further count of concealing, converting or transferring criminal property, namely cash, over the same period.
Opposing bail, a detective constable claimed social media conversations between other suspects about cannabis were discovered after police examined a seized laptop.
Thompson was allegedly involved in messages about a customer who had complained at the quality of the drugs.
The court heard packages were found at a number of locations, with cash lodgments to banks also allegedly linked to the racket.
It was revealed that in total 43 kilos of cannabis, with a street value of £860,000, have been recovered.
Nearly £65,000 in cash was also confiscated from addresses connected to other co-accused.
Following his arrest on Wednesday, Thompson denied involvement in criminality and told officers others could have used his unlocked phone to communicate.
But the detective claimed it would be hard to manage the risk of any more drugs being sent through the post.
Citing the potential risk of Thompson fleeing the jurisdiction, she alleged he has access to large amounts of cash and links to Spain.
"He has a business interest in a Northern Ireland supporters' club bar in Benidorm," she told the court.
Challenging her assertions, a defence barrister argued that police had failed to show how his client could go to live in Spain.
He also stressed Thompson has no record for drugs offences.
Counsel described the accused as an electrician who carried out "odd jobs" and attempted a chip shop venture.
Granting bail, the district judge banned Thompson from leaving Northern Ireland and ordered him to surrender any passports.
Prohibited from contacting any co-accused of witness, he must also provide a £5,000 surety before being released.
Thompson is due to appear back in court on August 30.