Northern Ireland news

Man linked to £2m drug seizure had been 'repeatedly trafficked' over debt

The High Court in Belfast

A man allegedly linked to the seizure of nearly £2m worth of cannabis in Belfast had been repeatedly trafficked over a £20,000 debt, the High Court heard yesterday.

Zhong Chen was described as a "gofer" who answered to a woman believed to be the boss of a crime gang distributing huge consignments of drugs.

The 40-year-old Chinese national, of no fixed abode, was arrested during a police operation in south and east Belfast on November 29 last year.

Officers seized cannabis with an estimated street value of £1.4m and arrested three men after raiding a house on Wellesley Avenue.

Prosecutors said the investigation then moved across the city, where Chen was observed outside a property on Templemore Avenue.

He was detained with a rucksack containing a knife, two mobile phones and two keys.

Those keys were used to gain entry to the property and a bedroom where another £500,000 worth of cannabis was found in suitcases and boxes, the court heard.

Opposing bail, a Crown lawyer claimed Chen is connected to the co-accused through examination of the phones.

In correspondence with a woman suspected of running the gang he allegedly replied: "Yes, boss."

Counsel was asked by the judge if police believe Chen had the role of a "gofer".

She responded: "I think so, maybe a go-between or a deliverer."

He faces charges of conspiracy to supply Class B drugs and possessing a bladed article in public.

Defence barrister Stephen Toal contended that he could be labelled a gardener in the alleged racket.

"He has no support within Northern Ireland," Mr Toal submitted.

"He says that he has been constantly trafficked because he owes £20,000, and he has been allocated various roles within the UK for a sustained period of time."

Chen should be released, it was contended, because he is no longer of any use to the crime gang.

But refusing bail, His Honour Judge McFarland ruled there was a significant risk of flight.

He added: "There's a history of him not turning up and engaging with appropriate processes in the past."

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Northern Ireland news