A man was effectively living in a cardboard box at a growhouse when gardaí raided it.
Malaysian Soon Hock Hoo, 34, was discovered in the squalid living conditions when detectives swooped on the grow-house at Johnstown Demesne, Cornafulla, just off the old Athlone-Ballinasloe road on Dec 19.
Detective Sergeant Adrian Queeney told Roscommon Circuit Court that a search team had arrived at the 4,000sq ft premises, which was divided into six rooms. A total of 700 cannabis plants were growing in the rooms. A bag containing 3.5kg of cannabis herb was also discovered at the premises.
The only person present was Soon Hock Hoo and he was taken to Athlone Garda Station for questioning. He told gardaí he had been offered €400 a week as a gardener and the job was to last six to seven weeks.
Another man had shown him how to lay the plants in rows and when to water them. A mobile phone had been taken from him.
Det Sgt Queeney said that the potential street value of each plant was €800, giving an overall value of €560,000, while the bag of cannabis herb was valued at €78,000.
The accused man had pleaded guilty to a single charge of cultivating cannabis plants without a licence.
The court heard that Soon Hock Hoo had only been working at the premises for two days before it was raided by gardaí. His passport had been taken by a third party and he had an elderly father in Malaysia who was ill. He wished to put together some money to fly home to care for him and Judge Hunt observed that the court could facilitate his leaving the country.
The judge said he would impose a four-year sentence to be suspended next December if appropriate arrangements were in place by then for his departure. He was remanded in custody until then.
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