Jailed for cultivating cannabis

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Two Asian nationals, including one with an address in Lurgan, were jailed on Friday on charges arising from the discovery of a cannabis factory.

The factory, discovered above a Chinese restaurant in Co Down, consisted of over 400 plants.

Phat Suong Chim (47) and 63-year old Dat Chung Duong appeared in the dock of Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, where they heard the growing operation described as “sophisticated.”

Both Chim, from Bradburne Way in Birmingham and Duong, from Stevenson Park in Lurgan, pleaded guilty to cultivating cannabis above the White Satin chinese restaurant on Greyabbey’s Main Street. The pair also admitted diverting electricity and causing criminal damage to the interior of the two-story flat above the eatery.

Crown prosecutor David McDowell QC said that police searched the premises on the afternoon of August 23, 2013. Officers initially entered the restuarant and two people were present. Chim identified himself as the owner, while Duong was located in the kitchen where he was preparing food.

When police asked to see the upstairs flat, Chim said he rented the ten-room property out. When the flat was searched, it emerged that seven of the ten rooms were being used to grow cannabis.

Mr McDowell told Judge Gordon Kerr QC that a total of 469 plants in various stages of maturity were found. Also in the premises was various equipment associated with a cannabis factory, including heat lamps.

The court heard that the electricity supply had been bypassed and a professionally installed power supply establised. This installation had caused damage to the property which cost around £9,000 to clean and repair.

When Duong’s home in Lurgan was searched, various items linked to the cannabis factory were found.

When the pair were arrested, Chim initially claimed that he had no knowledge of the factory above his business premises.

Mr McDowell said that while both men played a significant role in the enterprise, Duong’s was a lesser role than that of his co-accused.

Defence barrister Eugene Grant QC said his client Chim, who is orginally from China, was a refugee who came to live in the UK in 1988. Saying the father of four had “no direct contact” with the drugs operation, Mr Grant described Chim’s role as that of a facilitator.

Gavan Duffy QC, repesenting Duong, said his client had a wife and son in his native Vietman and it was supporting them and other financial pressures that led to his involvement in the scheme for a “modest payment.” Mr Duffy added that Duong “deeply regrets his involvement in this matter.

Passing sentence, Judge Kerr described the cannabis factory as a “very professional set-up” involving a large number of plants.

Chim was sentenced to 30 months - half of which will be spent on licence with the remaining 15 months spent on supervised licence upon his release from custody.

Duong was handed a two-year sentence, 50% of which will be served in custody with the remaining year on licence.

Judge Kerr also ordered that the cannabis plants and growing equipment be destroyed.