Drugs posted to NI were distributed across the UK as part of illegal operation - PSNI
Members of an organised crime gang have been sentenced to jail by a Belfast court after pleading guilty to possession with intent to supply drugs.
The south-east Asian group had used an upmarket apartment in Belfast as a hub to distribute mainly herbal cannabis across the UK, according to the PSNI.
The drugs were posted into Northern Ireland from outside Great Britain and then re-distributed to other parts of the UK.
Detectives who swooped on the property in October 2014 seized £560,000 worth of herbal cannabis, smaller quantities of other drugs, cash and equipment used in cannabis cultivation.
Police conducted a total of 12 searches, made seven arrests and interviewed 13 people during the investigation, which was codenamed Operation Karhold.
A number of cash, drugs and car seizures were subsequently made in other parts of Northern Ireland, including Carrick and Portadown. Restraining orders were also imposed on bank accounts, police said.
Three gang members who admitted their roles in the operation were handed jail sentences at Laganside Courts today.
Hui Lin, 41, who the PSNI described as an illegal immigrant, was sentenced to five years in prison after he admitted possession of class A drugs, possession of herbal cannabis with intent to supply and importing cannabis.
He was also sentenced to a total of three years, to run consecutively, for various money laundering offences.
Yu Li, 32, also described as an illegal immigrant, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years after he admitted importing and intending to supply herbal cannabis.
Juan Guan, 38, from Jerusalem Street in Belfast was sentenced to three years after he admitted possession of herbal cannabis with intent to supply.
Two women involved in the operation were given shorter jail terms at Laganside Courts on Friday.
Haixia Guo, 31, with an address in Sheffield, was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years, after she admitted a number of money laundering offences.
Student Ying Han Zhao, 25, with an address in London, was also given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years after she admitted three money laundering offences.
The officer leading the investigation, Detective Inspector Andy Dunlop, said: "This has been a lengthy and detailed investigation which began when we became aware of packages being sent from Spain in October 2014 and culminated in today’s sentencing.
“We have worked with colleagues in South Yorkshire Police and the Metropolitan Police along with the National Crime Agency to progress our enquiries and secure evidence to put before a court. The evidence was such that the defendants admitted the offences.
“Our investigation identified several bank accounts into which substantial amounts of money had been paid and then transferred. One account in the name of London student Ying Han Zhao had more than £66,000 lodged from Belfast in three months.
“Although this crime group based their activities in Belfast, their criminal reach spread to Great Britain and beyond. We believe we have taken down a major drugs supply network. The investigative reach by law enforcement has been extensive and effective.
“We are committed to making Northern Ireland a hostile environment for criminals. We will work to put criminals before the courts and have them convicted on the evidence we collect. We will also seek to ensure they do not derive any material benefit from their illegal activities.”