The seizure of more than 13,300 cannabis plants on the NSW Mid North Coast is one of the largest ever seen by police.
- 13,353 cannabis plants have been seized from three properties on the NSW Mid North Coast
- Police said the land for the grow houses was likely acquired from struggling farmers
- All 14 people arrested in connection with the grow houses are Vietnamese nationals
Police searched three properties near Taree, at Minimbah, Melinga and Moorland, late last week, finding 13,353 cannabis plants.
Fourteen Vietnamese nationals have been charged.
NSW Police said the plants had an estimated potential street value of more than $40 million.
Drug and Firearms Squad Commander Detective Superintendent John Watson said the seizure was one of the country’s largest.
“The biggest difference is that in 1975 outdoor crops were seasonal, so criminal groups were restricted to one crop a year, whereas these grow houses are weather-controlled enabling the harvest of new plants every 12 weeks or so.”
The arrests are part of an ongoing investigation into a criminal syndicate behind the large-scale cultivation and supply of cannabis.
It brings the total number of arrests by Strike Force Harthouse to 33 with cannabis worth an estimated $100 million seized and destroyed.
State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, said the arrests were significant.
“They will cause a reverberation in the drug supply market across New South Wales.”
Land acquired from ‘farmers under stress’
Assistant Commissioner Smith said the land used for the grow houses may have been acquired from struggling farmers.
“In the last 12 months we have never seen this kind of activity in grow houses in New South Wales,” he said.
“They are there for a reason. They are there to hide amongst fruit and veggie growers across New South Wales.
He urged anyone who had seen anything suspicious to come forward.
“We are urging farmers and other people in rural districts, that if there are issues similar in nature to this, or crops or unusual people moving in, that they contact Crime Stoppers,” Assistant Commissioner Smith said.
Vietnamese nationals arrested
Police said all 14 men arrested across the two-day operation are Vietnamese nationals with some permanent residents, others on student or bridging visas and others in the country unlawfully.
They range in age from 22 to 44.
The matter of each man’s visa status has been referred to the Department of Home Affairs.
They are each face charges relating to the cultivation of prohibited plants, supplying prohibited drugs and participating in criminal groups contributing to criminal activity.
They have been refused bail and will appear in Taree Local Court next year.