Pensioner jailed for possession of almost €5 million worth of cannabis

Gardai arrested Cornelius Van Gent after discovering him loading up two pallets of 72.7 kg of cannabis into a van
Gardai arrested Cornelius Van Gent after discovering him loading up two pallets of 72.7 kg of cannabis into a van

A 73-year-old Dutch man, who was one of three men found with almost €5 million worth of cannabis herb and resin, has been jailed for seven years.

Cornelius Van Gent was spotted by gardaí loading up two pallets of 72.7 kg of cannabis into a van before driving to Ikea in Dublin 11. A further 137 Kg of cannabis herb and 88 Kg of cannabis resin were found in the warehouse from which Van Gent had taken the first stash.

The court heard Van Gent stood out to gardaí on the day as he was an elderly, large man wearing a Stetson hat.

It was accepted that Van Gent was not at the upper echelons of what was described as an “unusually sophisticated system”. He had no previous convictions either here or in The Netherlands.

His co-accused, Sean Mahony (39) of  Dunamore Crescent, Killinarden, Tallaght, Dublin and Peng Cheng (24), of Vlaurdingen in The Netherlands, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of drugs for sale or supply at locations in North Dublin on May 16, 2014.

Mahony, who gardaí accept acted as a courier in order to pay off a drug debt, was jailed for six years by Judge Martin Nolan earlier this month.

Cheng, who also pleaded guilty to possession of the drugs found in North City Business Park, Finglas, Dublin was jailed for nine years. He said he had got involved to pay off a gambling debt and claimed he was in fear for his family’s safety.

Van Gent (73), of Patmosstrasste, Hoek, Netherlands, pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis resin for sale or supply at North City Business Park, Finglas on May 16, 2014. He also pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis herb at Ikea on May 2, 2014.

Gardaí observed the three men arriving at IKEA in vans on the day in question. After they met, Van Gent drove Mahony’s van to a warehouse where gardaí saw it being loaded with pallets.

He then returned to IKEA where Mahony and Cheng were waiting. Mahony left in the loaded van and was then stopped by gardaí.

Gardaí found 72.7 kg of cannabis in the van, with an estimated value of €1.45 million.

A further 137 kg of herbal cannabis and 88 kg of cannabis resin were found in a search of the warehouse, bringing the total value of drugs found to nearly just over €4.7 million.

Detective Garda John O’Rourke told Colm O’Briain BL, prosecuting, that it was “a complex arrangement with pallets of legitimate goods that also included drugs”.  The drugs found in the warehouse were contained in boxes of Basmati rice.

Judge Nolan said Cheng was above Van Gent in the operation. He described the amount of drugs as “pretty industrial” and said it was “a large and considerable drug dealing operation”.

He said he was satisfied Van Gent was “nowhere at the top” and became involved out of curiosity and had followed the directions of Cheng.

Judge Nolan said Van Gent’s co-operation, his plea and his general circumstances, including his lack of a criminal record and his age, allowed him to “depart from the mandatory minimum sentence” before he sentenced him to seven years.

Det Gda O’Rourke accepted a suggestion from Shane Costelloe SC, defending, that it was an “expertly packaged” consignment of drugs which was well disguised as something benign. 

Mr Costelloe said Van Gent impulsively decided to come to Ireland having met Cheng in Amsterdam. When he arrived here he agreed to do “some work” but insists that he didn’t know it was drugs he was transporting.

Counsel said his client accepts that because he was handed a signal block to disable the tracking device on the van and told to keep a watch out, he knew it was something illegal he was carrying.

Mr Costelloe said his client is a married man and his elderly wife, who is in ill health, is financially dependent on him. 

Sonya McLean