A VIETNAMESE national was used as ‘a mule’ and confined to staying inside a house in Mooncoin to tend to cannabis plants, valued at almost €140,000.
Hung Viet Ngungen pleaded guilty to having drugs in his possession for sale and supply when he was stopped by gardai at Ballinacurra, Mooncoin on November 11, 2010.
Garda Tom Gahan told the court that on the date in question, after obtaining a search warrant he went to the house with a number of other gardai. Entry was gained through a side patio door and the front door. “On entering the house I located a room on the ground floor which contained 74 cannabis plants in an advanced stage of growth. I then climbed a ladder to the attic in the hallway. In the attic I located 179 cannabis plants in an advanced stage of growth. Another room on the ground floor contained 96 cannabis plants in an advanced stage of growth. Each of these rooms were specifically adapted for the growing/cultivation of cannabis,” he said.
The court heard that each room contained a ventilation system, lighting system, heating system and the electricity was connected to the mains bypassing the meter. Each room was covered in Down Proof Membrane, including walls and floors. Plant foods and various plant chemicals were found throughout the house. Compost and other gardening items were also located. The estimated street value of the drugs seized were €139,600.
Hung Viet Nguyen was found hiding in the sitting room and was arrested and was co operative with gardai about his role in the cultivation process.The defendant was fingerprinted and the prints were sent to Interpol. A number of identities were found for these prints in Germany and in France.
The court heard that the 36-year-old defendant lost his mother when he was 12 and lived with his father, who was a tailor, his paternal grandmother and his four siblings. At 15 his father remarried and left the family home where the children were ‘left to fend for themselves with their grandmother’. The defendant worked on the streets selling ice cream until he was 19 and then got a job on a fishing noact. He met his wife and they got married and have two children together. His wife worked on the markets and he left the boat and helped her. In 2001 he travelled to Germany and stayed there for five years and was eventually deported back to Vietnam. He came back in 2009 and spent some time in England before ending up in Mooncoin where he was placed in a house with another man. The court heard that the defendant tended to the plants while being ‘watched over’ by a second man. “He wasn’t locked in the house but he was instructed to stay in the house and to tend to the plants. The only time he left the house was to be brought in a taxi to go to the shop once of twice a week,” his counsel said. Evidence was also give that there was ‘an expectation that he would be paid if the plants did well’.
Viet Nguyen, who has been in custody since his arrest was described as ‘an exlempary prisoner’ who works seven days a week in the kitchen. The court also heard that after his grandmother died his father sold the house leaving the defendant’s wife and two children destitute.
Judge Alice Doyle said that it was ‘akin to a mule case’. “Basically someone from a third world country who gives into temptation and is spotted by ruthless criminals and exploited.” She described it as ‘a sophisticated operation’ and that the defendant played a ‘small but important part’. “In England he met with a criminal organisation who put him to work. He has no previous convictions and he assisted gardai. He was certainly not part of a criminal organisation but he was spotted by them and put to work by them. I accept that he can be compared to a mule and that he was at the bottom of the ladder,” she said.
Judge Doyle sentenced him to three years on the condition that he be of good behaviour and keep the peace and presents a ticket back to Vietnam and be put on a plane by the prison authorities. She backdated the sentence to November 2010.