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The largest grow-op in northern B.C. history is now the largest marijuana operation the province has ever put to civil forfeiture.

On Tuesday, the province and the RCMP seized a hectare of land in the Cariboo, which had 5,566 plants in various stages of growth. The Citizen learned that an unofficial estimate by authorities pinned the potential value of the operation at $20 million or more per year.

"This is the first time that real estate has been seized in northern B.C. There has been cash and vehicles and such, but no real property up until now," said Const. Craig Douglass, who was involved in the bust of the grow-op on Nov. 22, 2006, on a rural property near Likely, northeast of Williams Lake.

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General John van Dongen said civil forfeitures are not easy to accomplish, the right conditions have to apply, but it is a very effective crime-fighting tool.

"It really was set up to be a marijuana factory for selling out of the region," said van Dongen. "This shows that this kind of activity happens in rural areas. It is not just concentrated in urban places."

The majority of the 30 forfeiture activities in the past few years since B.C. authorities have been game to try property seizures have been in the Lower Mainland, he said, adding it is not the intent of the province to automatically seize property involved in crime, but the process is now a familiar one for the civil forfeitures department in Victoria and is becoming a more comfortable process for police. About $4 million has been raised by the process.

"It is not a substitute for the criminal justice system, we emphasize those actions (of police and Crown to prosecute criminals) and in this case the two people we charged were convicted and sentenced," he said. The forfeiture was simply an extension of the prosecution process. "The prospect for success has to be reasonable. We have actually just improved and strengthened the legislation around that so it broadens the possible uses for it. We changed the wording (for seizure eligibility) to include any criminal activity that is likely to cause serious injury or death. That was just done this session."

This action was on a pair of land parcels totalling two and a half acres and assessed at about $293,200. It was seized from Wai Kit Cheang (aka Peter Cheang), 29, of Coquitlam.

Arrested on Cheang's property were Sambath Om and Kim Noun, both of Surrey, who pleaded guilty in B.C. Supreme Court on March 12 to production of a controlled substance. They were sentenced to one year each in jail.

"Tips from concerned people in the community played a big role in this one," Douglass said.

Source: Prince George Citizen (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Prince George Citizen
Contact: letters@princegeorgecitizen.com
Website: Prince George Citizen
 
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