Subject: Australia: Drug gangs turn to hydroponics

Source: Courier-Mail

Monday 23 Jan 2006

Author: Paula Doneman
-----
VIETNAMESE crime groups have emerged as one of the nation's major
suppliers of hydroponically grown marijuana.

Police sources said the Australian-based groups' move into hydroponics
was a shift from their long-standing involvement in the heroin trade.

Hydroponics is now the biggest form of cannabis production in Queensland
and growers are developing increasingly sophisticated methods.

Drug Squad Detective Inspector Gordon Thompson said crops had been found
mostly in suburban houses and to a lesser extent, on small farms.

Drug growers were renting private homes from unsuspecting landlords and
converting them to cannabis hothouses, he said.

Hothouses operate around the clock with some plants able to yield more
than 10kg of cannabis each.

"Hydro crops are less labour intensive, less likely to be discovered or
stolen. (Unlike outdoor crops) they are less likely to get eaten by
bugs, cattle and kangaroos ," he said.

Reduced labor costs, higher quality and a faster production rate meant
the demand for hydroponically grown cannabis had increased.

Insp Thompson said Queensland police had seized millions of dollars of
suspected proceeds of crime from hydroponic growers. Among assets seized
were homes, vehicles, huge amounts of cash and jewellery. "I am unable
to put a dollar value on the worth of the industry except to say that
cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Queensland and the
industry is worth millions of tax-free dollars to the growers and
distributors," he said.

Last year Queensland police uncovered a sophisticated network of
hydroponic nurseries used to grow more than $1.5 million worth of
cannabis in four houses in Brisbane's southwest.

Insp Thompson said several Vietnamese suspects, some of whom were
illegal immigrants, were charged with several drug offences.

New South Wales Detective Superintendent Ken McKay said the emergence of
Vietnamese crime groups in the drug trade had also occurred in Canada.

He said there were indications some of the Australian-based groups in
NSW had sent members to Canada to learn to about advanced techniques and
technology.

"Anecdotally, some of the Vietnamese criminals have been to Canada to
learn about the different types of plants and how to best maximise
production levels," he said.

Detective Superintendent Deborah Wallace, commander of the NSW
South-East Asian Crime Squad, said Canadian authorities had deported
several Australians after raids on hydroponic crops. Supt Wallace said
police first noticed the involvement of Vietnamese groups, many based on
social or family involvement in NSW crops in 2003