An international crime gang originating in Asia but with operations in Ireland is at the centre of a Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) probe into money laundering and property investments in the Republic.
Gardaí believe the drugs gang, whose leaderships is from Hong Kong, has been growing crops of cannabis in so-called growhouses in the Republic.
At least three growhouses have been definitively linked to the gang and others were suspected of being under the controlled of the gang leaders.
Garda sources said the Hong Kong group has an extensive operation in Britain, centred around London.
They are working on the theory that the Irish drugs cultivation and wholesale business is effectively an extension of the British-based operation, with both linked back to Hong Kong.
While a number of searches were carried out on Wednesday by the Criminal Assets Bureau, The Irish Times understands that none of the properties searched are assets under investigation by Cab.
Instead, the people residing at the properties are suspects in the drugs operation in Ireland and their homes were raided as part of efforts by Cab to find financial records.
The current phase of the investigation by Cab, which investigates and seizes assets from criminals, centres on bank accounts, cash and at least two residential properties.
The bureau suspects those properties, in south Tipperary and north Cork, are owned by members of the Hong Kong cannabis growhouse gang, though purchased under other identities.
Human trafficking victims
During a co-ordinated day of action against the gang, Cab officers led searches at two houses in Blanchardstown and Terenure, both in Dublin.
A solicitor’s office in the Midlands was also searched as well as an accountant’s office in the Dublin region.
Cab drafted in armed back-up from the Emergency Response Unit during the raids on the houses.
Local Garda members were also involved, as were members of the Garda National Immigration Bureau.
Intelligence gathered to date has revealed the Hong Kong gang employs people from Vietnam to tend the cannabis crops.
In many growhouse cases the Vietnamese gardeners, as they are called, have had no immigration status in the Republic and have been the victims of human trafficking for labour.
They are often locked into the growhouses and live in squalid conditions while being remunerated very poorly.
During the course of Wednesday’s searches, gardaí seized mobile phones and other electronic devices as well as documents, all of which were set to be examined by Cab’s financial analysts.
A sum of money, approximately €40,000, has been frozen in an Irish bank account on suspicion it represents the proceeds of drug dealing.
The Garda said the searches were “a significant development in an on-going operation targeting an organised crime gang involved in the cultivation, sale and supply of controlled drugs”.