A former professional poker player convicted of running a cannabis growing operation across Northern Ireland worth up to £2.25m has won an appeal against his jail sentence.
uong Bui’s total period of imprisonment was reduced by two years after senior judges held the original 15-year term to be “manifestly excessive”.
In 2017 police uncovered factories at an industrial unit near Comber, Co Down and residential properties in Belfast and Coalisland, Co Tyrone.
The warehouse had been divided into 10 rooms split over two floors, with living quarters set up for those growing the plants.
Cannabis produced at the sites had a potential street value of between £750,000 and £2,250,000.
An estimated £35,000 worth of electricity had been illegally used to provide the necessary lighting and heating, while damage caused to the properties was put at £16,000.
Bui, originally from Vietnam but now a British citizen, was described as the “lynchpin” and “controlling mind” in the extraordinarily profitable network.
Each factory had been rented out by the 45-year-old and reconfigured to his exacting specifications.
A sham business supposedly supplying hydroponic and gardening equipment was used as a cover for his illegal operation, with £195,000 deposited in his bank account between August 2016 and November 2017 cited as a snapshot of the criminal earnings.
At one stage it was claimed that cash found at Bui’s home was winnings from playing high-stakes poker in London and Las Vegas.
Despite insisting he had been innocently duped and manipulated by others, the trial judge declared that he was the one “calling the shots” in strategic control of the operation.
Bui received a 12-year sentence on being convicted of cultivating cannabis, abstracting electricity and assisting unlawful immigration.
A further three-year term was then imposed for attempting to pervert the court of justice after the factories were discovered.
At the Court of Appeal defence lawyers argued that it had been wrong to deal with that offence separately.
Ruling on the challenge, Mr Justice Fowler said it had been necessary to impose a consecutive custodial term but that three years was manifestly excessive.
He confirmed: “The proper global sentence in this case is a sentence of 13 years imprisonment.”