Two working cannabis factories have been found in Sunderland after UK-wide raids targeting a Western Balkans organised crime group.
Two arrests were made in Wearside as part of an eight-month investigation into drug supply, fraud, money laundering and modern slavery.
Twenty people were arrested overall on Wednesday, March 5, after around 100 National Crime Agency officers swooped on addresses in Sunderland, Birmingham, Reading, Blackburn and London.
One of the suspected heads of the group – a 36-year old man – was arrested by NCA officers at an address on Pershore Road in Birmingham on suspicion of conspiracy to produce and supply class B drugs.
A further cannabis factory was discovered at an address in Southgate, North London, where two Albanian nationals were arrested.
Another arrest was made in Blackburn, where investigators found premises they think had previously been used for cannabis production.
Deputy Director Andrea Wilson from the NCA said: “Today’s activity highlights just how seriously we are taking the threat from Western Balkan organised crime groups.
"They are involved in various forms of serious and organised criminality, including the trafficking and supply of class A drugs, organised immigration crime and corruption."
Detective Inspector Natalie Hall, of the Thames Valley Police Serious Organised Crime Unit, said: “Investigating this type of criminality can be complex and time-consuming and this particular operation has been a culmination of months of hard work by officers. Therefore, I am pleased that we have been able to carry out these warrants and make a number of arrests.
“Further, I hope that this serves as a warning to those in the community who are involved in the supply and distribution of drugs as well as the exploitation of people, that we know who you are, where you are and we are committed to bringing you to justice.
“If anyone has any information or suspicions about drug supply in their area, please make a report to Thames Valley Police by calling 101 or online.
“Alternatively, if you would prefer to remain anonymous you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online too.”