UK: Police 'can't cope' as Vietnamese flood drugs trade

Tony Thompson
The Observer

Sunday 11 Sep 2005

---
Police in swaths of London are being 'overwhelmed' by Vietnamese gangs
flooding the streets with high-strength, home-grown cannabis.

The gangs, who have also been linked to murders, people-smuggling and
kidnapping, are making millions of pounds by renting houses from
unsuspecting landlords and converting them into sophisticated cannabis farms.

Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, head of the Metropolitan Police
Specialist Crime Directorate, told The Observer the problem was now so
significant that his officers were working closely with the Vietnamese
authorities and community to stamp out the problem.

'We have seen a growth in cannabis cultivation in recent times in London
and we have experienced a tendency for this sort of crime to be committed
by a number of communities, including small elements within the Vietnamese
community,' he said.

In just one London court last week, five separate cases involving
Vietnamese drugs gangs were being heard on the same day. One judge even
complained he was having trouble telling the cases apart as he had dealt
with so many in such a short time.

Last month, Hung Nguyen, 17, was convicted of running two cannabis
factories. He told London's Blackfriars Crown Court that a gang had paid
him UKP200 a week to mind the crop of 270 plants in two houses.

Joseph Brown, prosecuting, told the court police were being 'totally
overwhelmed' by illegal Vietnamese immigrants growing cannabis in
south-east London. The gangs are operating on such a massive scale that
their crops have led to an explosion in the amount being seized.

Between April 2003 and March 2004, the Met recovered 468,364kg (103,000lb)
of herbal cannabis, which includes plants grown and harvested. Between
April 2004 and March 2005, its officers seized 1,009,487kg (222,600lb) -
more than twice the amount of the previous year. Two-thirds of this was
seized in the final six months. Already this year police have raided more
than 250 cannabis factories across London, the majority of them run by
Vietnamese gangs, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down.

Over the summer, police in the east London borough of Newham have been
particularly active, closing down more than 100 factories including 14 in
one day, yet they believe they have found only the tip of the iceberg.

A typical cannabis farm will contain up to 1,000 plants and generate
profits of up to UKP500,000 for the gangsters each year.

One Vietnamese farming operation uncovered in south London recently used
four houses, each of which was equipped with hi-tech growing equipment that
yielded harvests of 40kg (88lb) of cannabis, worth UKP120,000, every six weeks.

The equipment alone was worth more than UKP20,000. Electricity to power the
systems was being stolen from the national grid, and a sophisticated
venting system ensured that the crops' distinctive odour passed through the
roof of the house to prevent neighbours from being alerted.

Detectives fear the profits that can be made growing cannabis could lead to
a turf war with other gangs. Last January, the body of a Vietnamese man
called Khan Tho Nguyen (Nguyen is a common Vietnamese name) was found in a
cannabis factory in Wembley, north London.

No one has been arrested for his murder and police do not yet know if he
was killed by members of the gang behind the factory, or by others trying
to steal the drugs.

Last year, Jermaine Fyves, a member of a south London yardie gang called
the Alligator Crew, was jailed for life after shooting dead Vietnamese drug
dealer Hoi Son Nguyen in a plot to steal a stash of cannabis that Nguyen
had grown. Stabbings, kidnappings and attacks have also been linked to the
gangs.

Although the Vietnamese gang problem is centred on London, police forces
across the country, for example on Merseyside, say they have seen an
identical trend in the growth of home cannabis production.

Senior officers believe the sharp rise is at least partly due to the
decision to reclassify cannabis from a class B to a class C drug which led
to an increase in demand.

Tighter border controls as a result of the terrorist threat have also made
the domestic product more sought after. Gangs who grow cannabis make far
higher profits now because they do not have to smuggle the drugs across
borders.

The rise of Vietnamese gangs and their dominance of the cannabis growing
industry is part of a global trend. Police in Sydney, Australia, have
announced the formation of a South East Asian crime task force to tackle
Vietnamese gangs after busting dozens of operations.