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Vietnamese Gangs Blamed for Surge in Australian Cannabis Production

Vietnamese crime gangs are being blamed for the illicit production of cannabis in suburban houses across Australia. The authorities say small residential drug factories grow more marijuana in Australia than any other method.

The cultivation of cannabis in so-called grow houses' in Australia is far more widespread than police had previously thought. Investigators say that organized gangs run by Vietnamese criminals are at the heart of a multi-billion-dollar illicit trade.

It is alleged that the crime syndicates are luring young Vietnamese to mind the crops. They would typically travel to Australia on a student or tourist visa with the promise of earning several thousand dollars.

Superintendent Peter McErlain from the New South Wales state Drug and Firearm Squad says cannabis cultivation is part of a web of illicit drug trafficking.

"The cannabis grow houses, the profits that they make from there can fuel, you know, other illegal activities and that could mean importing, you know, other drugs through the border, manufacturing other drugs including ice [methamphetamine], importing cocaine or heroin through the border. That is the potential danger. Generally it is that channeling that profit to other illegal activities," he said.

It is estimated that a single residential property can generate a profit of $185,000 in just three months.Investigators say they simply do not know how many cannabis grow houses there are in Australia.

Raids are regularly carried out by the police, but Gus Viera, the commander of Strike Force Zambesi, believes the illegal industry continues to grow.

"As much as we are having a result I do not know whether we are actually making a dent into it or not because we could be disrupting one here today and another four or five could be popping up," said Viera.

The Australian government has estimated there are more than 2,300 Vietnamese who have overstayed their visas and are currently in Australia illegally. It is thought many could be involved with the cannabis trade.

The Department of Home Affairs deported 380 Vietnamese nationals in 2016-17.