AN ALBANIAN national who was smuggled into the UK in the back of a lorry has been jailed after he was found tending a cannabis farm in Haverfordwest to work off debts to a criminal gang.

Prosecutor Caitlin Brazel told Swansea Crown Court that 29-year-old Shahin Mustaj was found when Dyfed-Powys Police raided an address on North Crescent in Haverfordwest on March 13.

“As officers entered the property, the defendant was attempting to leave via the back door,” she said.

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Ms Brazel said the property had been converted in to a “large and sophisticated cannabis factory”. There was a bedroom area in the kitchen/living room, and there were two fully stocked fridge-freezers.

A total of 290 cannabis plants were seized, which would have produced a yield of between 8kg and 24kg. Ms Brazel said this was worth between £32,000 to £41,600 at the lower end of the scale and £96,000 to £124,800 for a higher yield.

Mustaj was arrested, and his two mobile phones were seized. He refused to provide officers the PINs for the phones and would not identify the incoming callers.

In interview, Mustaj denied the offence and said he “had been exploited” and “wasn’t doing it voluntarily”.

Ms Brazel said Mustaj had travelled from Albania to Germany before entering the UK in the back of a lorry around six months prior to his arrest.

He told the police that he owed the criminal gang around £25,000 in debts for bringing him to the UK, and had agreed to work it off after they threatened to harm his family. He was then taken to the cannabis farm, which had already been set up.

He denied any knowledge of the electricity being bypassed.

Mustaj, of no fixed abode, admitted a charge of producing cannabis at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court.

David Singh, mitigating, said: “Mr Mustaj is realistic about his position. He appreciates a term of immediate imprisonment is inevitable.”

Mr Singh said that the defendant, who had worked as a construction worker in Albania, had no previous convictions in the UK or in his home country.

“He was performing a limited role in whatever took place,” Mr Singh added.

Addressing the defendant, Judge Paul Thomas KC said: “Like so many of your fellow countrymen, you were found involved in a large-scale cannabis growing operation – on this occasion in Pembrokeshire.

“You were looking after 290 plants in this operation and the electricity had been bypassed.

“The potential monetary worth of that amounted to tens of thousands of pounds.

“What you say about you involvement is something which I hear week in week out from Albanian men.”

Judge Thomas sentenced Mustaj to eight months in prison.

“What happens to you after that will be a matter for the immigration authorities,” he said.

Following the hearing, detective sergeant Vinny Barret, of Dyfed-Powys Police, said: “The Priority Policing Team alongside the local neighbourhood policing team, executed a warrant where we disrupted the growth of a substantial amount of cannabis, worth £96,000, which would have undoubtedly found itself on the streets of our local communities in Pembrokeshire.

“We will continue to make our force area hostile to drugs and ensure that we keep our communities safe. I encourage anyone with information about those involved in criminal activity to contact us.”

Dyfed-Powys Police can be contacted by calling 101, by emailing, or via direct message on social media.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired, text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.