NAMED: Six face court after alleged $17m cannabis bust
A NUMBER of people said to be living in Australia illegally have faced court today after police raided an alleged 'sophisticated' cannabis operation on the state's north coast, and allegedly seized a massive $17 million worth of the drug.
Five men, Wannapong Phongpaiboon, Phanh Simeuang, Tou Sensonxay, Manh Nguyen and Long Huynh, and one woman, Dee Simeuang, were listed to appear at Coffs Harbour Local Court today after they were arrested at a rural property at Kremnos yesterday morning, January 22.
As part of their investigation Strike Force Harthouse, the State Crime Command's Drug and Firearms Squad had been monitoring the property south of Grafton since November.
Police said the six accused, ranging in age from 25 to 53, were allegedly "busy cultivating and harvesting" the crop that was growing inside 13 industrial green houses when police officers stormed the property.
Police allegedly seized more than 5,200 plants and over 200kg of cannabis head that was prepared and ready for transportation.
At this stage police said it is unknown where the cannabis was being transported to.
The six were charged with cultivate prohibited plant (large commercial quantity), supply prohibited drug (large commercial quantity) and participate in criminal group contribute criminal activity.
Drug and Firearms Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent John Watson said it was the second rural property allegedly found cultivating commercial quantities of cannabis in the area in two months, after police arrested two Vietnamese men who were allegedly found working on crops at a Korora property in November.
The prosecution told the court today that the accused - of Laos, Thai and Vietnamese backgrounds - were all living in Australia illegally, having outstayed their tourist or student visas.
During her appearance it was heard Dee Simeuang, who cannot speak English and has no linkage to the area, claimed she was a tourist who had run out of money and was offered an opportunity for work.
Wiping tears from her eyes, the Laos national asked the translator if she could explain her situation but was advised otherwise by the magistrate.
Simeuang's husband, a co-accused, later appeared in the dock wearing orange hi-vis workwear. It was heard in court heard his wife was suffering from ovarian cancer.
Tou Sensonxay, also from Laos, appeared in the dock where it was heard he claimed he had come to the area "for work" and further claimed was not aware he was breaking the law.
Long Huynh and Manh Nguyen did not appear in court and had their matters adjourned to March 24.
All six accused were refused bail and will appear at Coffs Harbour Local Court via audio visual link on March 24.