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Human Trafficking

Two Vietnamese men were smuggled into Ireland to work in cannabis growhouses, court hears

Gardaí raided an industrial estate last year where they found 1,469 cannabis plants.

TWO VIETNAMESE MEN were smuggled into Ireland to work in a cannabis grow house containing just under €1.8 million of drugs, a Dublin court has heard.

One of the men travelled to Ireland in a shipping container and thought he would be working on a farm, while the other thought he would be working as a chef, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard today.

Ngog Toan Vu (54) and Thang Nguen Van (46) each pleaded guilty to one count of cultivating cannabis without a licence at a warehouse unit in Ballymount Drive in Dublin 12 on 10 May this year.

Their sentence was adjourned to April next year to allow for investigations to continue as to whether they were the victims of human traffickers. Both men were remanded in custody until then.

Garda Larry Dempsey told James Dwyer BL, prosecuting, that gardaí searched the warehouse following a confidential tip-off.

Upon arrival, they found a “highly sophisticated” operation, involving six grow rooms filled with 1469 cannabis plants, with lighting, heating and ventilation systems in place. There was also a 31kg vat of harvested cannabis.

The total street value of the drugs seized was €1.795 million, the court heard.

GardaÍ also discovered a small living area in the warehouse, with two beds, a TV and laptops. Vu and Van were arrested at the scene.

In a series of interviews with gardaí, they both admitted to cultivating cannabis in the grow house. They said they were paid €400 fortnightly for the work.

Vu said he had paid a Chinese man to travel to Ireland from Vietnam in a shipping container. He said he was taken straight to the grow house upon his arrival in the country and had been living in the warehouse for seven weeks.

He said he was forced to leave Vietnam after his barber shop was compulsorily purchased by a criminal gang. He spent his life savings of $40,000 USD to pay for the trip to Ireland, where he said he thought he was going to be working on a farm.

Vu’s documentation was taken from him upon his arrival and he told gardaí he felt he couldn’t leave, and that the warehouse was being monitored.

Vu has no previous convictions.

Van told gardaí he had only been in the country for three days. He previously lived illegally in the UK and he has a number of convictions there for theft, shoplifting, driving without a licence and failing to present documentation to immigration services.

Van told gardaí he was a chef and thought he would be working in a kitchen when he arrived in Ireland. He said he was “coughing to death” in the environment of the grow house.

Van has a gambling debt in Vietnam of about €7000 and a partner and a six-year-old son still living there, the court heard.

Gda Dempsey said no documentation was found for either of the men, which was often the case in human trafficking scenarios. Neither of the men could speak English and the court proceedings were translated to them.

Because both men are illegal, they will most likely be deported upon their release from custody, unless they are found to have been the victims of human trafficking. In that case, they may be allowed to remain in the country.

Judge Martin Nolan adjourned their sentence to April next year in order for progress to be made in that investigation. Both men are co-operating with gardaí in an attempt to identify the alleged human traffickers, the court heard.

Judge Nolan said he was satisfied both men were at the lowest rung of the criminal enterprise and were not receiving much money for their work.

“Both became involved in relation to this grow house by reason of desperation and a certain amount of cOercion,” the judge said.

“While the crime is a serious one, their moral culpability is low,” he added.

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Isabel Hayes and Sarah-Jane Murphy