A High Court judge has declared three houses represent the proceeds of crime due to being linked to cannabis production.
The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) sought the orders under section 3.1 of the Proceeds of Crime Act in proceedings against Luk Yau Kwok, Weizhong Zhang and Ms Huijuan Xu, the wife of Mr Zhang.
In his judgment this week, Mr Justice Alexander Owens said there was “compelling” evidence the houses and money were the proceeds of crime.
The orders relate to No 1 Mountain View, Bansha Road, Tipperary town, bought by Mr Kwok in 2015 for €130,500. A grow house there was found by gardaí in 2018 when cannabis plants valued at some €189,500 were seized and the grow house may have been operating for 40 months, generating a possible €1.8m in that time, the judge noted.
The orders also concern a semi-derelict house called “Weston” on Rathealy Road, Fermoy, Co. Cork, bought by Mr Kwok for €135,000 in 2017. The judge said, when gardaí searched Weston in 2017, they located material connecting Mr Zhang to others who had operated a grow house in Ballyroan, Co Laois. Solictor’s files also showed a connection between Mr Kwok and Mr Zhang, he said.
The third property is a house at No 3 Warrenstown Rise, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15, bought in 2015 for €195,000 with Huijuan Xu is registered as owner.
A sum of €40,000 in a bank account in the name of Huijuan Xu in AIB, Portlaoise, said to be rent from Warrenstown and savings of Ms Xu, was also declared the proceeds of crime.
The judge said evidence established Mountain View and Weston were bought by Mr Kwok for use as cannabis grow houses.
He noted Mr Kwok (aged 65) lives in England and came to the attention of police there after cannabis worth up to €624,000 was found in a grow house in a property of his in Worcestershire. Mr Kwok had said he rented the rooms to another man and knew nothing of the cannabis operation.
The judge said Mr Kwok has little connection with Ireland and his reasons for buying the two “unattractive and dilapidated” properties, mainly with cash, were “unbelievable”.
The evidence was Mr Kwok was part of a criminal enterprise in which large amounts of money were generated from cannabis production, the judge said. He was satisfied Mr Kwok and his associates had access to large receipts from sales of cannabis and the evidence was these individuals were involved with grow houses elsewhere, in Ireland and England.
The judge said the purchase of Weston was funded by a series of electronic money transfers from China with some of the money routed through Ms Xu’s account and the rest sent directly to a solicitor’s account.
He said Mr Zhang organized the purchase and provided €20,000 in cash, was also involved with Mr Kwok and others in buying Mountain View and Weston and was “fully involved” in developing and running the properties as cannabis grow houses.
Despite Ms Xu having average annual earnings between €7-9,000 from 2016 to 2018 and her husband’s very modest income with a disclosed annual wage between 2015 and 2018 averaging €21,900, Ms Xu was able to buy Warrenstown and had told CAB the purchase was funded with “gifts” from China, he said.
He concluded the “only rational explanation” was the money transfers from China used to buy Warrenstown were derived from laundered money or payments which were proceeds of crime. He also concluded Ms Xu was able to save her salary and rent by living off her husband’s earnings from the illegal drugs trade.
Mr Zhang and Ms Xu have left the State, the judge noted. On foot of those and other findings, he made the orders sought.