Two men charged over a £1m (€1.2m) cannabis seizure in the North were members of a highly organised criminal gang, police claimed in court today.
Warren Arthur Martin, 36, from Ballygonney Road West, Moneymore, in Co Derry, and Aidan Joseph McPartland, 29, from Deramore Gardens, Belfast, appeared at the city’s magistrates court where they faced a string of drugs charges.
Both men denied the offences and claimed they were “mules” used to transport the drugs, but District Judge George Conner refused bail for the pair, who were remanded in custody to appear again before the courts in three weeks.
Police seized the major cannabis haul after stopping two vehicles in the Duncrue area of Belfast on Thursday, though lawyers representing the men today questioned the £1m street value placed on the find.
The court heard claims that McPartland believed the parcels seized by detectives contained cigarettes, before he noticed the smell from the holdalls carrying the packaged drugs.
But an officer from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Organised Crime Branch said she believed she could connect both men to the charges and said: “We would feel that they are members of a highly organised criminal gang.”
The court heard that as part of an intelligence-led police investigation they arrested the two men and found 25 kilos of vacuum-packed cannabis in holdalls in McPartland’s taxi, while 20 kilos were found in the lorry driven by Martin.
Cannabis was also found at an address in Carryduff linked to McPartland, it was claimed.
Both men face charges of possession of cannabis and possession of cannabis with intent to supply.
Martin faces a further charge of possession of criminal property, while McPartland faces a charge of transferring criminal property.
The two men spoke only to confirm their names and that they understood the charges.
Defence solicitors said the men denied they were involved in a criminal gang and also denied the drugs charges.
The District Judge refused bail, however, after police said they feared further offences may be committed.
The men were remanded in custody and are due to appear in court again on November 17.