Two men due in court over Sunderland cannabis farms raided as part of police operation into West Balkan crime gangs

Sunderland men are due in court after being charged in connection with two large cannabis farms uncovered in raids aimed at targeting West Balkan organised crime gangs.

Friday, 5th March 2021, 4:57 pm
Updated Friday, 5th March 2021, 5:00 pm

The two here on Wearside led to the discovery of cannabis farms at each site.

Now Ferit Lala, 30, of Ross Street, and Ariston Mardeda, 28, of The Retreat, have been charged with conspiring to produce cannabis and are among 12 men charged with the same offence following the operation.

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A photo shared by the National Crime Agency, showing inside one of the cannabis farms uncovered in Sunderland.
A photo shared by the National Crime Agency, showing inside one of the cannabis farms uncovered in Sunderland.

They are due to appear before magistrates in the region today.

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They are among 16 men to be charged by Thames Valley Police in connection with the eight-month long investigation into the importation and distribution of class A and class B drugs, money laundering, modern slavery and human trafficking.

The raids were supported by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU), with most of the searches centring on properties in Reading.

A photo from Thames Valley Police showing one of the raids it carried out across the country.

A significant amount of cash, drugs, weapons and other items were seized during the action, which the NCA said was targeted at the “threat from Western Balkan organised crime groups.”

In addition to the same allegation, other men also face charges including being concerned in the supply of cocaine or a class B drug, possessing criminal property, money laundering and conspiring to conceal/disguise/convert/transfer or remove criminal property.

Two other men have been released under investigation and two have been released with no further action to be taken.

A photo showing inside one of the two cannabis farms found in Sunderland during a day of action to tackle organised crime gangs. Photo by the National Crime Agency.

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Thames Valley Police inside another cannabis farm found during the raid, which happened in Reading, Birmingham and Blackburn, as well as Sunderland.
The NCA has released this image of a cannabis farm found in Sunderland and said the raids were targeted at dealing with organised crime gangs from the West Balkan countries.